Brad Keselowski has little momentum as he heads to Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend to battle for the championship. He doesn’t worry about that. Momentum, he says, is overrated.
He might have experienced a little karma as he continues to somehow survive to challenge for the title. Then again, he questions what in the world “karma” actually means and its application to the will of the racing gods.
All the 2012 NASCAR Cup champion knows: He has a shot for the title Sunday, the first time in the four years of the elimination-style playoffs that he goes to Homestead with a chance.
And that’s about all it is. A chance.
“Whenever there is a championship on the line, there’s pressure,” Keselowski said. “On the other side, there’s not a lot of self-inflicted pressure when you know you’ve been running fourth or fifth all year and you’re probably going to need to win that race.”
Keselowski ran far from fourth or fifth Sunday when he advanced to join Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. in competing for the 2017 Cup title at Homestead. He finished the race 16th, a finish he truly deserved in a frustrating day at Phoenix.
For much of the day at Phoenix, Keselowski appeared he would suffer another playoff disappointment. Denny Hamlin would have beaten him on points if he had not crashed after Chase Elliott pinched him into the wall as they battled for position. Elliott would have eliminated Keselowski with a win, but Matt Kenseth rallied to pass Elliott with 10 laps remaining.
Keselowski survived to compete for the title, even though the Team Penske driver enters as a decisive underdog.
“I don’t know why things opened up this way,” Keselowski said. “I don’t know why in the past two or three years the doors have closed in strange ways where … the last three years we’ve broken parts that should never break and been eliminated out of this whole format with much faster cars than we’ve had this year.
“Who’s to say? It’s just part of the ebbs and flows and how racing smiles on you and frowns on you at times.”
Keselowski crew chief Paul Wolfe has a theory. Keselowski led 108 laps at Martinsville Speedway to open the semifinal round, but Elliott door-slammed him as they battled for the lead, ending Keselowski’s chances. Moments later, Hamlin punted Elliott, which resulted in Elliott not giving Hamlin an inch at Phoenix.
“I believe in karma sometimes,” Wolfe said. “We should have already been to Homestead with the performance we had in Martinsville. I feel like it was taken away from us there. That’s kind of how I look at it.
“Things eventually come around and [Phoenix] wasn’t our day. But when it was our day, it was stolen from us. I feel good about where we’re at. I feel like we deserve to be there.”
Keselowski wouldn’t go that far in terms of crediting karma.
“The karma word sure does seem to get thrown around a lot, and I’m not sure what the hell it means,” Keselowski said. “But the reality is that this year we made it through [the semifinal] round, and I’m thankful for that, and hopeful that we can make it count.”
That seems like a tall order. His team has little momentum. He does have three top-5 finishes in the last five races (including a fifth at the 1.5-mile Texas two weeks ago), but beyond Martinsville, he just hasn’t appeared to have anything for the Toyotas.
“I think momentum and Homestead is overrated,” Keselowski said. “If you look at last year I would have said the guy [Jimmie Johnson] with the least momentum won it all. I’m not too caught up on that.
“I’m excited about how we ran at Texas. I know that we’re bringing the same car build to Homestead, so probably a little more thrilled about that and I would look at Texas as being more of the momentum to Homestead than I would [Phoenix].”
Keselowski knows what has worked in the past. He preaches speed, execution and luck as the keys to victory whenever asked about his chances in racing.
So he assesses his chances this way:
“We probably had some really solid execution last week in Texas, great speed at Martinsville and luck [at Phoenix],” Keselowski said. “You know, if you put all three of them together on any given day, you can win.
“And we haven’t done that in this [semifinal] round, but we had one of each in all three races, and that put us in position to be here.”
The Team Penske crew relishes the chance.
“This will be our first opportunity to go down there to race for one,” Wolfe said. “Brad has been able to do some amazing things when there’s something on the line like this.”
It has gnawed at Keselowski that he hasn’t advanced to Homestead until this year. The other three finalists have experience in the best-finisher-take-all format at Homestead, and two (Busch and Harvick) have won championships in it.
Keselowski refuses to analyze the championship based on experience.
“It’s easy to read too much into it,” Keselowski said. “It’s easy to read not enough into it.
“And at the end of the day, I’m just going to get in the race car and drive it.”