By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series focusing on why each of the Championship Four will end Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title in hand.
It’s hard to believe, but Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway marks Brad Keselowski’s first foray into the Championship Four. With that in mind, this is also Keselowski’s best chance at earning his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
His championship rivals this year: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex, Jr., all of whom have been in the Championship Four previously.
Since his first championship in 2012, the best Keselowski has finished in the championship standings was fifth in 2014. That was also the first year of the elimination format the Playoff Standings now has. When Keselowski won the 2012 Championship, he simply had to finish 15th or better to secure the title. This year, his only guarantee is winning.
Keselowski’s performance on 1.5-mile tracks has been decent in 2017. He won at Atlanta Motor Speedway and also scored six top-10 finishes in 10 races on 1.5-mile tracks this season. In total, he has three victories, 15 top-fives, 20 top-10s, and two pole positions this season.
Although this is Keselowski’s first time in the Championship Four, his Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano has been in contention in two out of the three years in which this format has been used. Another part of the equation that is working to Keselowski’s advantage is the fact that he still has Paul Wolfe, who lead him to the 2012 Championship, as his crew chief. Keselowski has had a knack of winning when he needed to in the past. The 2014 Talladega Playoff race is a prime example of that.
“I think I’m just glad to be in it, and we’ll have a great opportunity,” said Keselowski. “I’m thankful for that. I’d like to be in it and probably have come off a couple races where we were the fastest car. That sure would make you feel good. But where we’re at and the way these formats go and single race like this, you just don’t know what’s going to happen. I mean, it’s one race to determine a championship, and anything can happen. Shoot, anything happened today, not that there wasn’t as much on the line, but it certainly wasn’t the championship. You have no idea what’s going to happen next week, and I think it’s easy to read too much into it. 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.”
In the three races leading up to Homestead, Keselowski has finished fourth, fifth, and 16th. Two of his championship rivals, Busch and Harvick won two of those three races.
At Homestead, Harvick has the best average finish (6.94) of the Championship Four drivers. Truex is second of the four, with an average finish of 12.33. Keselowski’s average finish at Homestead is 15.89.
On top of his success for Team Penske, the IndyCar team swept four of the top five positions in the Verizon IndyCar Series Championship Standings. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden won the Championship. Now Team Penske has the chance to make it a Championship sweep with their No. 22 NASCAR Xfinity Series team in the hunt for the Owner’s Championship of that series.
For all of these reasons, this is the best chance that Keselowski has had to win a second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship.