Keselowski's Chase Hopes Dwindling
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on September 2, 2013 | 2:11 P.M. EST
An inconsistent season has Brad Keselowski fighting to avoid becoming the second defending champ to miss the Chase. (Photo: Getty Images)
HAMPTON, Ga. - It’s simple math, some will say. Two penalties could cost Brad Keselowski a chance to defend his title.
But to say so ignores a season’s worth of inconsistency. Still, the number-crunches will note that Keselowski has been penalized 31 points this season. They’ll remind you that he’s 28 points out of 10th place - the final automatic spot for the Chase - heading into Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway.
While Sunday’s engine failure marked the first time Keselowski’s race ended early because of such a problem this year, it’s an example of all that has gone wrong. He has nearly as many finishes of 30th or worse (six) as he does top-five finishes (seven) this season.
All of those poor finishes have come in the last 17 races, meaning Keselowski is averaging a 30th-place finish or worse about every three races.
“I’m beyond frustration,’’ Keselowski said moments after climbing from his ill car and watching his Chase hopes dim.
He fell to 15th in the points. No driver in the top 20 in points has gained five or more spots in the standings in one event. That’s what he’ll need to do to clinch a top-10 Chase spot.
Keselowski’s best bet of making the Chase could be to win Richmond and take the final Wild Card spot, but even that isn’t a guarantee.
It doesn’t matter how many scenarios there are. If Keselowski and his team don’t perform at Richmond, it won’t matter.
“The nerve part of it is gone,’’ crew chief Paul Wolfe said as he headed out the garage after the race. “I think, at this point, we go there and do everything we can, take any chance we can and then see how the points fall. I think we still have a shot at it. It’s not like there’s no hope left.’’
Keselowski knows he’ll need help. Otherwise, he will join Tony Stewart (in 2006) as the only defending champions to miss the Chase.
“We don’t dictate our own fate, which is never good,’’ Keselowski said. “Obviously, we have the speed and performance to get there, but we haven’t put together the execution or the luck. There’s only so much you can control.’’
Although Keselowski’s frustration grew at times during Sunday’s race, he didn’t throw a tantrum after his engine failed.
“What can you do?’’ he said. “You can sit here and be mad and stomp your feet and be a jerk about it, but it just broke. That’s racing. It’s kind of been the story of our year.”
It didn’t seem that way early in the season. Keselowski led the points after Bristol, the fourth race of the season. He was in the top three by Kansas, the eighth race of the season.
Penske Racing then lost its appeals for an unapproved suspension system and components at Texas and NASCAR’s 25-point deduction was enforced.
Problems soon compounded. Keselowski lost two laps at Darlington when he pitted under green for vibration. He made one up and was in position to get the other back before he was collected in a crash and finished 32nd.
He placed 36th in the Coca-Cola 600 two weeks later. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. drifted into Danica Patrick’s car, which clipped Keselowski’s and caused him to wreck.
Keselowski seemed to break free of the misfortune with a fifth-place finish the following week at Dover but his car was found to be too low in post-race inspection. NASCAR docked him six points.
It was a sign of what his summer would be like, as he followed that with five consecutive finishes outside the top 10, putting his Chase hopes in jeopardy.
“At this point you’re just looking above going, ‘This must be some kind of test to prove how strong we are and what our character is’ because I believe in the people I’m around,’’ Keselowski said Sunday night. “I think they’re doing the right things, but it’s just not working. So I’m reserved to this being a test. I love challenges and this is going to be one helluva challenge.”