By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
*Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Season for 24 drivers. We will release one driver preview per day over a 24-day stretch.
Years in Cup: 7
Career Wins: 21
Biggest Accomplishment: 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (then Sprint Cup Series) champion
With a championship, 21 wins and a seat at the legendary Team Penske, 32-year-old Brad Keselowski has much to be proud of as he nears what many consider the prime era of the average driver’s career.
However, while he may be finding the lion’s share of success in the regular season, Keselowski and the team behind the No. 2 Ford are still searching for a way to step up when it counts and leap ahead of the pack, and perhaps even out of teammate Joey Logano’s shadow.
Let’s start with the obvious – Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe have been one of the best duos in the business when it comes to finding a way to victory lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Their 11 wins since the modern Chase format was introduced in 2014 trail only Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano (14 each) and Kevin Harvick (12) for the most in the series.
The win total is impressive. However, few of them have come on NASCAR’s biggest stages.
Keselowski has been the winningest driver at restrictor-plate tracks Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway since his shocking upset with Phoenix Racing in 2009, tallying five victories between the two facilities. However, the Daytona 500 continues to elude him.
The other crown jewel races haven’t gone much better for Keselowski, either. The Rochester Hills, Mich, native is still winless at Darlington and, to team owner Roger Penske’s dismay, Indianapolis. Keselowski’s lone win at Charlotte Motor Speedway didn’t come in the Coca-Cola 600, and his sole crown jewel victory –the Bristol Night Race– came back in his 2011 breakout season.
Keselowski’s record in the Chase hasn’t lived up to the No. 2 team’s lofty expectations, either. While the Keselowski’s nine regular season victories over the past three seasons sit in a three-way tie with Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson for most on the tour, his Chase statistics haven’t been as strong.
Team Penske teammate Logano leads the Cup Series with seven Chase triumphs since 2014, but Keselowski has only two — Chicagoland Speedway and Talladega in 2014.
Given Keselowski’s aggressive driving style, that lack of Chase victories has been his undoing. The Michigander has failed to make the Championship 4, facing eliminations in the Round of 8 (2014, 2015) and Round of 12 (2016).
Logano, on the other hand, has both won a Daytona 500 (2015) and gone on to make the Championship 4 in two of the three possible seasons thus far, with his one failure to advance coming in controversial fashion after a late run-in with Matt Kenseth at Martinsville Speedway in 2015.
With those achievements from his teammate, it’s obvious that Keselowski has been given equipment strong enough to succeed on NASCAR’s grandest stage. 21 victories and the 2012 Cup Series championship to his name, it would appear Keselowski has the necessary talent, too.
Assuming Team Penske continues to provide the level of equipment needed to succeed, the key for Keselowski, Wolfe and the rest of the No. 2 team in 2017 will be minimizing mistakes, capitalizing on opportunities and adding a few victories at the crown jewel and Chase races.
If Keselowski can accomplish that, a trip to the Championship 4 won’t just be a hope, it’ll be an expectation.