Category Archives: cars

Brad Earns 5th Talladega Win in Dramatic Fashion

Three years ago, Brad Keselowski made a stunning last-lap pass on Ryan Newman to win at Talladega Superspeedway and punch his ticket to the Round of 8. On Sunday, the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion driver did it again—powering his Team Penske Ford past Newman’s Chevrolet on the last lap to secure a spot in the semifinal round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

BK showed once again that he’s the driver to beat on restrictor plate tracks—and especially at NASCAR’s longest track in Talladega. Kes now boasts five trips to Victory Lane at the 2.66-mile Alabama track, good for sole possession of fourth place all-time, just one win behind Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Ironically, Brad’s No. 2 Miller Lite machine was paying homage to Dale Jr. in the win, making a spectacular weekend that much more special.

“This is still sinking in,” BK said. “It is a special place to get to race and a special place when you win here. It was really a collaborative effort with the team and getting a real fast car and making the right moves as a driver and a lot of help from up above with staying out of those wrecks. It really takes all three and we had them all today.”

Only 14 cars finished the race, including just 12 on the lead lap in a wild afternoon of restrictor plate racing. Brad managed to skirt through each wreck—successfully filling the luck factor that is vital to a win at Talladega. And for part of the race, BK did it with no contact whatsoever with his crew chief Paul Wolfe or his sponsor Joey Meier, who is always instrumental to his success in restrictor plate events.

“It was one of those crazy days,” Brad said. “I think we have seen that at the plate tracks this year. A lot of attrition. Everything that could happen to us today did happen. From the radio problem to coming from the back a couple of times, we just were up against it today.  Thankfully, with the moves we were able to make and the help of got from my spotter (Joey Meier). We just stuck with it and we were able to win.”

Early on, Team Penske employed some strategy to earn a Stage 1 win. Brad and his teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney slipped back out of line midway through the first stage and pitted early. As a result, they cycled out to the front for the conclusion of the first stage, earning Brad a valuable playoff point, as well as 10 extra stage points. Brad later finished ninth in Stage 2, just one position behind Blaney away from a Talladega sweep.

Late in that second stage, the Miller Lite Ford lost its radio antenna, leaving Brad out in the cold. With no contact with his spotter, BK slid back to 15th before pitting under green at lap 145. On this stop, Kes made a power move, passing several drivers before slowing his machine down entering pit road. During the two-tire stop, Brad’s crew tried to hook him up with a new antenna, but only a partial connection was made.

After a caution with 33 laps to go, BK made a speech about how he could win the race without the radio, but Wolfe called him back down pit road. The Miller 2 Crew successfully repaired the radio, and the three men who know their way around a restrictor plate track as well as anyone in the sport were connected once again.

Kes restarted 30th with 29 laps to go and regained 10 spots. He then skated through several massive wrecks relatively unscathed, and after three red flags totaling more than 30 minutes of downtime, Brad found himself leading the remaining field with three laps to go. Ryan Newman led taking the white flag, but BK could not be denied at his best track. Kes used one final bump from his teammate, Logano, to gain the final edge over Newman and lead his seventh lap of the race as the checkered flag flew.

“It’s nice to be locked into the next round, but then again, we still have work to do,” BK said. “We aren’t going to be happy until we are racing in Homestead for a Championship.”

MENCS PLAYOFF STANDINGS

  1. Martin Truex Jr. – 3120*
  2. Brad Keselowski – 3101*
  3. Kyle Larson – 3096
  4. Kevin Harvick – 3089
  5. Denny Hamlin – 3088
  6. Chase Elliott – 3087
  7. Ryan Blaney – 3076
  8. Jimmie Johnson – 3074

— ROUND OF 8 CUTLINE —

  1. Kyle Busch – 3067
  2. Matt Kenseth – 3066
  3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 3052
  4. Jamie McMurray – 3045

* – Clinched Round of 8 Berth

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BK Paying Tribute to Dale Jr. in Crucial Dega Race

As Brad Keselowski competes for his fifth Talladega Superspeedway win this weekend, he’ll be paying tribute to the man who made it all possible: Dale Earnhardt. Jr.

BK will sport a special Miller Lite paint scheme on his No. 2 Ford Fusion, a nod to Brad’s first ride, the NAVY 88 he drove for Dale Jr.’s XFINITY Series team.

“Dale and I are great friends, and he gave me a chance to drive for him in 2007, and that opportunity changed my life,” Brad said. “I was very, very fortunate to drive for him, and to have his help building a career. I don’t know if I’d be where I am without him, but I’m glad I don’t have to find out. So to honor my friend and everything he’s done for me, we’re going to be racing at Talladega this weekend with a new paint scheme, an homage to my days driving the NAVY 88.”

In that special paint scheme, Brad will look to improve his standing in the Monster Energy Cup Series playoffs. After finishing 15th at Charlotte, BK enters the second Round of 12 race in 10th place, though he’s just two points behind the eighth-place cutline. But given Dega’s unpredictable nature, Brad knows he’ll have to be on his game for the Alabama 500.

“Everybody enters Talladega with a strategy,” Brad said. “Then they drop the green.”

Fortunately, few drivers know their way around the 2.66-mile track better than Brad. He boasts four wins at the restrictor plate surface, including a monumental playoff win there in 2014.

“Talladega has been good to me,” Brad said. “Winning four times means a lot here. Talladega has been a track for us that’s been a great catalyst for success. I don’t know why that is. It’s a track where if you’re capable of winning here, I think you show a certain level of attitude and swagger.”

If he can replicate that performance, he’ll be in the Round of 8. There are two practice sessions set for Friday at 1 and 3 p.m. ET. Qualifying is set for 4 p.m. ET Saturday. The Alabama 500 will go green at 2 p.m. ET on NBC.

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A Tribute to Dale Jr.

As everyone who follows NASCAR knows, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is going to retire at the end of the current season. Needless to say, not having Dale Jr. on the track is going to be a tremendous loss for the sport. He leaves a tremendous legacy that will not be replaced.

Dale Jr. is one of a kind, and someone we can all be proud to be associated with. Most competitors aren’t necessarily humble by nature. His humility really set him apart in a lot of ways. He has a massive fanbase, a ton of sponsors, and made a ton of money. But he never bragged about what he had, or what he had accomplished. He’s never been that way. I’ve always really respected him for that.

Dale and I are great friends, and as many of you probably know, he gave me a chance to drive for him in 2007, and that opportunity changed my life.  I was very, very fortunate to drive for him, and to have his help building a career. I don’t know if I’d be where I am without him, but I’m glad I don’t have to find out.

So to honor my friend and everything he’s done for me, we’re going to be racing with the scheme below this weekend, an homage to my days driving the NAVY 88.

The paint scheme I’ll be using this weekend, an homage to the NAVY 88.

When I began my blog, my very first entry was about Dale Jr. and our history together. I’m republishing that blog in its entirety below because it truly captures how I feel about him.

But before we jump in, I want to say this: Dale, there’s not a doubt in my mind that you’ll excel at whatever it is you do next, but it’s not going to be the same out there without you. I’m going to miss racing against you, my friend. I’m going to miss seeing you out there in the 88 on Sundays.

I know I’m not alone.

DALE JR. IS A GOOD FRIEND AND I'LL ALWAYS BE GRATEFUL TO HIM FOR GIVING ME MY BIG BREAK IN RACING.

DALE JR. IS A GOOD FRIEND AND I’LL ALWAYS BE GRATEFUL TO HIM FOR GIVING ME MY BIG BREAK IN RACING.

 

EVERYONE ELSE

Back in 2006 and 2007, I was struggling to really get a foothold in the sport. I’d been through some pretty tough escapades with different race teams, and kind of bounced around. I didn’t have any connections. I didn’t have any possessions. I had no place to live. Sometimes, I stayed in hotel rooms that teams would rent for me for a couple months while I drove for them. Other times, I stayed with friends. Every team that I worked for was broke, and we never had the equipment we needed to run well.

I wasn’t really having much success.

As NASCAR fans know, the way they do the garages at the track, there are two sides: There’s the top 20, and then there’s everybody else. One day in early 2007, when I was racing for Keith Coleman Racing in the Nationwide Series, I was on the “everyone else” side. I’ll never forget looking over at a friend of mine and saying, “My goal is to get to the other side of the garage.”

Later that season, I was down at Atlanta. I ran a truck race, and I ran terrible. But when I got in the Nationwide car, we ran really, really well. There was a part of the race where we undoubtedly were one of the best cars. It just so happened that Dale, who had his car at the time with another driver, was watching the race from his suite at the top of the track.

And I passed his car.

His car had a lot of sponsorships, and a lot of resources dedicated to it. We were struggling very much. But on this particular day, it was quite the opposite. We had very little resources, and we were running well. And I think he was at kind of a breaking point, so he just put that in his mental bank.

MY KEITH COLEMAN RACING RIDE FOR 13 RACES IN 2007.

MY KEITH COLEMAN RACING RIDE FOR 13 RACES IN 2007.

The next week, we went to Bristol, Tennessee, and Dale, Jr. decided to run the race. He did it with his family team, DEI, but since he didn’t do it on a constant basis and they didn’t have any points, they had to park on the backside of the garage.

We wound up parking right next to each other. You have to remember, he was Dale Jr., and I was this struggling driver, so I didn’t want to bother him. I’m not that kind of guy — it just didn’t feel right. The funny thing was that he got out, walked over, and talked to me a little bit while we were practicing, which I thought was great. He was just down to earth. I was running really well again, and the first thing he said was that he liked the way I was driving. He said I reminded him, at least at that track, of how his dad used to drive it.

I thought that was really cool.

He also told me, “Man I’d like to see you get an opportunity. It would be great. I wish I knew of one.”  And then we kind of just moved on. It was one of those kind of “nice to meet you” situations.

A CHANCE

I struggled on for the next few months, and so did Dale and his team. By early June, the Nationwide team I was driving for — Keith Coleman Racing — went bankrupt.

I saw the writing on the wall once the season started, so I can’t say I was surprised. It was like one of those countdown clocks. I knew it was coming. I’m not going to say that it didn’t hurt, but when you’re prepared for something, it doesn’t hurt as much.

I began looking for another opportunity. Something. Anything.

I started spotting for someone, and I went to a truck race in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — just to watch because it’s close to where I live in Michigan, only a five or six-hour drive. There was this big wreck. One of the drivers lost his temper and had a tantrum, and he intentionally wrecked another driver. At that time, it was a big faux pas in racing. (It’s funny how times change. It seems like that happens now two or three times a year.) So NASCAR booted him out, and sat him down.

Like I said, I had been at that race just watching. The team driver for the guy who had gotten in trouble — he’d seen me drive before, and he had said the same thing to me that Dale had: “If there’s ever an opportunity, I’ll be there for you.” You sometimes think those words are lip service when you hear them. You never really know. Well, sure enough, there was an opportunity, and he made the most of his word. His team, Germain Racing, called and asked me to drive that truck while the other driver was suspended. That driver was only suspended for one week, so essentially, I had a one week trial.

That race was in Memphis, Tennessee, in June of 2007. It turned out to be one of those unique weekends where the stars align in a lot of different ways.

Dale’s Nationwide team, like I said, had been struggling. So he had a sit down with his driver, and told him, “Look, no more wrecking. I don’t care what you have to do, no more wrecking.” The same weekend I was driving in Memphis, Dale showed up in New Hampshire to watch his car run, and when he got there, they had wrecked at practice. He made the decision right then and there that he was going to fire his driver.

The responsibility, the pressure of being with a well-funded team — especially one that’s owned by the most popular guy in the sport — those things kind of hit you like a truck.

The night I ran the truck race for the suspended driver, it went well. I had qualified us on the pole. I was running really well and was winning the race until I was wrecked from behind late. As Dale later told it to me, he was actually watching the race on TV. He needed a driver for his car, he saw me, and he thought, “This is easy. Let’s put him in.”

He called me up the next day when I was flying back to Michigan. “I’d like you to drive my car,” he said. “Come on down here and check it out.” “

So I did.

I brought a suitcase and that was it. A suitcase on a plane. I landed in North Carolina, and there was a gentleman picking me up. His name was T.J. Majors, one of Dale’s best friends. He’d turn out to be my best friend. (He’s now Dale Jr.’s spotter, and he spotted for me in the Nationwide Series as well.) T.J. took me over to Dale Jr.’s guest house, and that was where I stayed for the next six months.

It was a surreal thing to go through. There were a lot of benefits, obviously, to driving the No. 88 for Dale, and having resources and opportunities that you’ve never had before to be competitive. But you start to realize quite quickly that there’s other things that come with it. The responsibility, the pressure of being with a well-funded team — especially one that’s owned by the most popular guy in the sport — those things kind of hit you like a truck. You think it’s just going to be easy. “Now we’ve got a fast car, and we’ll win.” But then other things pop up to make it difficult. The pressure was to run well, not wreck and to be a leader on a team that needed one — that’s really hard to take up overnight.

JOINING JR. MOTORSPORTS AND GETTING TO RUN THE 88 CHANGED EVERYTHING FOR ME.

JOINING JR. MOTORSPORTS AND GETTING TO RUN THE 88 CHANGED EVERYTHING FOR ME.

Things came together for me in Texas at the very end of 2007. The team had built a brand new car. We started at the back because of some kind of issue they had getting through tech, so I had to drive through the field, which was kind of one of those things that sticks out as being a huge accomplishment. I finished sixth. That was the first time we really ran well. I was very proud of that one. I think the team really rallied behind me.

BURN THE SHIPS

There’s a story about the explorer, Cortes, that comes to mind when I think of my early career. When Cortes sailed to the New World, he came with a bunch of ships. And when he landed, he burned them all so that nobody could go back. Nobody could talk about leaving. Nobody could think about leaving. They were committed to what they were doing whether they believed in it or not. They didn’t have a choice.

That’s kind of where I was at with racing back in 2007 before meeting Dale, I wouldn’t say I didn’t believe in myself. But I would say that I didn’t have a choice but to make it.

In my mind, there was no other option.

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BK Finishes 15th at Charlotte to Start Round of 12

Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford team will have their work cut out for them in the final two races of the Round of 12.

The No. 2 Team Penske crew just didn’t have it in their hometown, finishing 15th in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. As a result, Kes dropped from fourth to 10th in the Monster Energy Cup Series standings going into next weekend’s trip to Talladega Superspeedway.

“It wasn’t the day we wanted for the Team Penske/Alliance Truck Parts Ford, so we’ve got two races left to go and we need to have two strong races,” Brad said. “I was probably more frustrated with not being as fast as we wanted to be.  That makes the day a lot longer, but a little bit of heat, that’s what this sport is about.”

The Black and Yellow Deuce had some speed off the hauler for just his third start of sixth or better in the last seven races. However, a spin in practice to start the weekend foreshadowed the handling issues that plagued BK throughout race day. When the green flag dropped on Sunday, Brad couldn’t hold his starting position as he fought a machine that lacked stability entering and exiting the corners of the 1.5-mile North Carolina racetrack.

A rough restart on lap 36 saw Brad slide out of the Top 20. He did all he could to pick his way back to the front but made it to just 14th, just outside of the points at the conclusion of Stage 1. A nice pit stop by the 2 Crew sent BK off into Stage 2 from the 12th position. But 90 laps later, he found himself just outside of the points again, in 13th position when the second stage came to a close.

Paul Wolfe and Co. made rounds of air pressure and wedge adjustments while Brad altered the track bar from the cockpit. The No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts machine found a little life late in the race as Brad cracked the Top 10 after a green-flag pit cycle around lap 225.

But the stint in the Top 10 didn’t last. As Brad continued to fight an ill-handling Ford, he slid back out of the Top 10 to 15th place when the checkered flag flew, the second-lowest finish of all remaining playoff contenders.

BK earned 22 points from his finish but couldn’t collect any additional points throughout the day. He sits 10th in the MENCS standings, though he’s just two points off of this round’s eighth-place cutline.

The Monster Energy Cup Series now heads to Talladega Superspeedway, where Brad boasts four wins, more than any other track. Kes finished seventh at Talladega earlier this season. Of his four Dega wins, one came in this fall event—and it came in 2014 as one of the biggest wins of his career. That clutch victory sent him to the next round of the playoffs, a feat he’ll look to replicate Sunday (Oct. 15) at 2 p.m. ET.

MENCS PLAYOFFS STANDINGS

  1. Martin Truex Jr. – 3106*
  2. Kyle Larson – 3072
  3. Kevin Harvick – 3069
  4. Chase Elliott – 3
  5. Denny Hamlin – 3056
  6. Kyle Busch – 3055
  7. Jimmie Johnson – 3051
  8. Jamie McMurray – 3044

— ROUND OF 8 CUTLINE —

  1. Matt Kenseth – 3043
  2. Brad Keselowski – 3042
  3. Ryan Blaney – 3039
  4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 3034

* – Clinched Round of 8 Berth

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BK Ready for Round of 12 Challenge

Brad Keselowski hardly broke a sweat, breezing through the Round of 16 relatively worry-free—but the points are now reset, and an entirely new animal emerges in the Round of 12.

Featuring two mile-and-a-half tracks sandwiched around a trip to the treacherous Talladega Superspeedway, the Round of 12 is sure to increase the playoff intensity. The first 1.5-mile track comes this weekend in Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Bank of America 500. While BK enters the Round of 12 in fourth place, he’s not taking lightly the challenge that lies ahead.

“I see those two mile-and-a-halves (Charlotte and Kansas) which is mostly about the aerodynamics, and that’s important to get all that right,” Brad said. “And then Talladega which is just…”

Brad boasts four career wins at Talladega, more than any other track, but he’s well aware that he can’t take the challenge lightly. The Team Penske driver believes that the restrictor-plate track’s unpredictable nature will be magnified in the current stage format.

“I felt like before the stages it was a little easier to control your destiny there. You could run up front and kind of stay away from it all,” BK said. “Then with the stages, you could run up front, somebody would short pit and cycle you to the back. … That just mixes up the field; it means there’s no safe place to be.”

With that in mind, up-front finishes and strong points days will be highly coveted this weekend at Charlotte as drivers look to pad their points going into Dega. BK knows that he and crew chief Paul Wolfe will have to be on their game, as the race for stage points will be fierce.

“Those stages are (crucial), as they were meant to be. They were meant to put an emphasis on running up front early in a race and not just riding around and cruising,” Brad said. “You can run fifth and not score any stage points and you’re not going to score the fifth-most points on the day, you’re going to score about the 10th-most points.”

Fortunately, BK has mustered up some magic in this playoff race at Charlotte before. Amid a 2012 Championship hangover in the 2013 season, Brad raced his way to his first career win at the 1.5-mile Carolina track—his only win of that down campaign.

He also has three XFINITY Series wins to his name at Charlotte, two of which came in the fall. He has a history of CMS consistency at NASCAR’s second level, finishing in the Top 10 in 14 of his 18 starts.

Brad was on a string of four straight Top 10 finishes at the Monster Energy Cup Series level before this season’s earlier trip to Charlotte. Kes hit an oil slick and smashed into a spinning Chase Elliott, ending his Coca-Cola 600 run just 19 laps in.

“We had a really fast Miller Lite Ford and I think we had a shot at winning tonight, but that’s how it goes,” Brad said after the wreck.

The Alliance 2 Crew will look to replicate that speed this weekend. First practice is set of 1:30 p.m. ET on Friday, followed by qualifying under the lights at 7:20 p.m. The final two practice sessions are set for 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday. The Bank of America 500 is scheduled for a 2 p.m. ET start on Sunday and will air on NBC.

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Brad Picks Up Playoff Point in Top 10 Finish at Dover

In the new NASCAR playoffs, every point counts and Brad Keselowski swiped one more on Sunday, on the way to the Round of 12.

The No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion driver won Stage 1 in the third and final race of the Round of 16, the Apache Warrior 400 at Dover International Speedway. Already locked into the second round due to his strong Top 5 performances in the first two races of the opening round, Kes enjoyed a stress-free run at The Monster Mile, and logged his 17th Top 10 finish of the year, crossing in 10th.

“We had some pretty good strategy running long and caught the yellow cycle. Then we had a good pit stop that put us in position to win the first stage which was good,” Brad said. “Then we cycled back to sixth the next two rounds and fought really hard from there to just keep track position. We were holding on to sixth or seventh most of the race and at the end we tried to a little bit of strategy and it just didn’t quite work out.”

The White Lite wasn’t overpowering when it rolled off the hauler in Dover. Brad qualified just 16th, but as always, the Miller 2 Crew made the most of it on race day.

BK tried to drive the Team Penske No. 2 ahead in the field in the early going, fighting loose handling entering corners and tightness in the center. Fortunately, he got some help from lady luck late in Stage 1.

The long-pitting strategy has paid off for Paul Wolfe and Co. in the past, and it did again. Brad remained out on the Dover concrete late in the pit cycle while nearly all of his competitors had already gone in for service. A timely caution came out, allowing BK to pit from second place, a lap ahead of the competition. Some outstanding work by Wolfe’s crew had him back out on the track in first place. From there, a strong run on the restart helped Brad cruise to his fifth stage win of the year.

Stage 2 saw Brad slip all the way back to 10th before recovering for an eighth-place finish to add a few more points to his Round of 16 resume. The White Lite awoke to show some strong speed in the final stage, and with that, Wolfe tried to dip back into the long-pitting pond. Unfortunately, it didn’t work the second time around.

The caution Brad needed never came out, and he was cycled back to 15th after finally pitting at lap 340. That gave him just 60 miles to push his way back to the front. The Miller Lite Ford driver clawed his way back into the Top 10 before the checkered flag flew.

The points now reset and Brad remains fourth in a 12-man field as the Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Bank of America 500. Brad won the event in 2013—a feat he’ll look to replicate on the 1.5-mile Carolina track.

MENCS STANDINGS

  1. Martin Truex Jr. – 3059
  2. Kyle Busch – 3041
  3. Kyle Larson – 3034
  4. Brad Keselowski – 3020
  5. Jimmie Johnson – 3017
  6. Kevin Harvick – 3015
  7. Denny Hamlin – 3013
  8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 3010
  9. Ryan Blaney – 3008
  10. Chase Elliott – 3006
  11. Matt Kenseth – 3005
  12. Jamie McMurray – 3003

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Brad Braced for Monster Mile’s Challenge

Brad Keselowski doesn’t need an outstanding finish in this weekend’s Apache Warrior 400, but the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford driver will nonetheless look for the Top 5 that eluded him earlier this season at Dover International Raceway.

Brad’s No. 2 Ford in Wurth colors showed great speed at The Monster Mile earlier this year, but it could only show it for 66 laps. Just one week after another competitor’s wreck knocked him out a Charlotte, Kes was taken out by a spinning Kurt Busch in Dover, ending his day early.

“It really stinks to DNF two weeks in a row, but to make it worse I think we had cars capable of competing for the win both weeks,” BK said at Dover in June. “It’s unfortunate that we haven’t been able to show the speed in our Ford Fusions.”

Despite that result, Brad does have a strong history at the 1-mile Delaware track. He boasts six Top 10 finishes, five in the Top 5, two poles and a win that helped fuel his 2012 Cup Championship run. He also finished runner-up twice at The Monster Mile in 2014.

“Dover is an incredible challenge,” BK said. “You literally drive into the corner and you fall down two stories, while going about 160mph, and your stomach just drops. Your right foot has to stay in the gas pedal, and that challenge to do that every lap for three hours is very tough.”

While Kes will have his hands full, he won’t have to deal with the pressure that the majority of his competitors are feeling. Brad is one of four drivers to have clinched a spot in the Round of 12. Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch are in on wins, while Kyle Larson and BK have enough of a cushion on the 12th-place cutline that they can’t fall out of the Top 12 based on points.

Four drivers will be eliminated after the race, setting the stage for a hectic weekend at a track that requires no extra pressure to be difficult. Qualifying is set for 3:40 p.m. ET after the initial practice at 10 a.m., both to be aired on NBCSN. CNBC will carry Saturday’s practice sessions. Finally, the Apache Warrior 400 will go green shortly after 2 p.m. ET Sunday and will air on NBCSN.

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Top 5 Finish Sends 2 Crew to Round of 12

One race still remains in the Round of 16, but Brad Keselowski has already secured his spot in the Round of 12 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

The No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion team ran a brilliant race at one of its bread-and-butter tracks, New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Though he didn’t lead a lap, BK ran near the front all afternoon in the ISM Connect 300, and he crossed in fourth place for his 12th Top 5 of the year—enough to mathematically clinch his spot in the next round.

“It was great execution. The pit crew was really solid today and a pretty good setup too,” Brad said. “Paul Wolfe and the engineers did a good job putting the right stuff under the car. I felt like we were where we needed to be to win and to run up front with the pit crew and the setup, just kind of lacking a little bit with aero stuff to keep up, but this type of track aerodynamics are a little less important and I felt like it helped us run a little bit higher this week.”

The White Lite wasn’t outstanding leading up to Sunday’s main event. Brad qualified 13th and didn’t run higher than 12th during the three practice sessions, but like they’ve done before in Loudon, the Miller 2 Crew got it done on race day.

Within 15 laps, the car that didn’t crack the Top 12 all weekend was scored in the Top 10 thanks to some excellent forward drive cooked up by the Team Penske engineers. While Stage 1 went all the way through under green, BK climbed his way to seventh to pad his point total.

During the first stop of the day under the Stage 1 caution, the 2 Crew stepped up again, sending Brad off in third after a quick servicing. Kes made sure that effort didn’t go to waste, as he defended his spot in the Top 5 for the entirety of Stage 2. In the final lap of the second stage, a race-defining wreck happened when Kevin Harvick spun out. Several cars were swallowed up by the wreck, but spotter Joey Meier guided BK safely down onto the apron and safely through to a third-place Stage 2 finish.

Brad slid back initially to start Stage 3, but he quickly passed Jimmie Johnson to break back into the Top 5. The No. 2 Ford was losing some rear grip as the race wore on, but Kes held on, enduring four restarts after a late rash of cautions to secure a Top 5 finish and a whopping 45 points. That put Kes 62 points to the good of the 12th-place cutline going into the Round of 16’s final race in Dover.

With the pressure off at the Monster Mile, Brad and his team can continue their chase of the field-leading Toyotas. BK drew criticism going into the playoffs after warning his Twitter followers of the Toyotas’ dominance. So far, he’s been spot on. This week’s race winner, Kyle Busch, and last week’s winner, Martin Truex Jr., led a combined 299 of 300 laps in their Toyotas at Loudon. With one manufacturer topping the charts, the Miller 2 Crew is remaining opportunistic while leaning on top-notch execution to carry them through.

“I think today, this execution is as good as you can get,” Brad said. “A little bit of luck helps and of course you want to be the fastest car. That’s not the scenario with rules the way they are now, so we’ve got to make the most of it and hope to catch a few breaks and make sure we do our part.”

The final Round of 12 race, the Apache Warrior 400 presented by Lucas Oil, is set for a 2 p.m. ET green flag Sunday and will air on NBCSN.

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Round of 16 Continues in New Hampshire

Brad Keselowski started the Monster Energy Cup Series Playoffs in fourth place, and he left its opening race at Chicagoland Speedway still in fourth place—an enviable, relatively stress-free standing.

The No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion driver holds a 35-point cushion on the current 12th-place cutline at 2061 points, tying him with his none other than his longtime rival Kyle Busch going into the ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. BK knows that the road to Homestead and the Monster Energy Cup title goes through Busch and his fast No. 18 Toyota.

“It seems like every year there’s some kind of spillover,” BK said of his back-and-forth with Busch. “It adds a bit of motivation, which is kind of fun. It does give you a little bit of a competitive edge.”

BK and fellow Ford Performance driver Kevin Harvick showed some potential in their setups at Chicago. Both drivers earned points in Stage 1 and Stage 2 and finished in the top six. However, it was clear that the Toyotas of Busch and race winner Martin Truex Jr. are still the machines to beat as they led a combined 162 laps.

A Toyota driver in Denny Hamlin claimed the victory at NHMS earlier this season. Brad overcame a jack malfunction to finish ninth in that race—his 12th consecutive Top 15 finish in Loudon. Adding to that streak, particularly with a Top 5 or Top 10, would be just what Kes needs to survive and advance to the Round of 12.

“The first round of the playoffs isn’t about going out there and going for broke to get a win,” Brad said. “It’s about building a strong foundation for the rest of the playoffs, working on your speed so you can be ready when it matters.”

Even independent of the rest of the field’s performances, a strong points day should be enough to ensure BK’s berth in the Round of 12, even if disaster strikes next week at Dover.

Kes and crew chief Paul Wolfe have a strong playbook for The Magic Mile. In 16 career Cup starts at the 1.058-mile track, Brad boasts 10 Top 10 finishes—as many as he has at any other track. He has won twice at Loudon at the XFINITY level and one in Cup (2014), and he’s captured seven poles between the two series.

He’ll look to add to that number during Friday’s 5:15 ET qualifying session. The ISM Connect 300 is set for a 2 p.m. ET green flag on Sunday.

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2 Crew Opens Playoffs with P6 Finish in Chicago

Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion team didn’t have the speed to contend with the likes of race winner Martin Truex Jr. and polesitter Kyle Busch—but the Team Penske group made the most of its Playoff-opening race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Kes qualified in fifth place and remained right around that position for nearly the entire Tales of the Turtles 400. His White Lite swung loose late in the race and he finished sixth, but nonetheless, it was a solid start to the Monster Energy Cup Series postseason. BK started and remained fourth in the Cup standings, and he holds a 35-point cushion over the 12th-place cutline.

“We can be happy with sixth,” Brad said afterward. “We scored a bunch of stage points and had a solid day up front. We are still looking for a little speed, but execution today was really, really strong. Great day on pit road, great restarts. All that stuff was what you look for, we just need to marry that up with some speed and we can win any of these races.”

The first playoff event didn’t bring the best start for Brad, as he incidentally bent his left side skirt in while driving from the apron onto the banking of Chicagoland Speedway. Stage 1 stayed green the whole way through, and BK held on to his Miller Lite Ford to finish sixth, earning some valuable points as part of a strong 42-point day. Busch dominated the opening 80-lap segment, leading all every lap and putting more than half the field a lap down in the process. Meanwhile, the next dominant car, Truex’s 78, was penalized early, putting him temporarily out of the picture.

On the first stop of the day, jackman Braxton Bannon fixed the Miller machine’s side skirt, helping BK cruise to fourth on the Stage 2 restart. He moved to third shortly thereafter when Busch pitted out of sequence due to a loose tire. On that stop, Busch’s pit crew was flagged for coming over the wall too soon, putting him two laps down. Those two miscues kept his dominant No. 18 out of contention.

Green flag pit stops came around lap 125, and crew chief Paul Wolfe used the opportunity to pit late and lead one lap, earning another point. Kes cycled out to fourth after pitting, but just when one dominant Toyota car bowed out, another reappeared. Truex passed Brad with 12 laps to go in Stage 2, dropping BK to fifth, where he closed the stage.

After a quick caution at the outset of Stage 2, Brad battled with Chase Elliott and Truex for the second spot behind Kevin Harvick, though he didn’t quite have the power to hold on to that second spot, falling to fourth. The fourth and final caution flag flew when Erik Jones spun out at lap 210. Brad pitted from and restarted in fourth, but his Miller Lite Ford was too loose on the final run, and he was passed back by Larson to sixth, where he remained when the checkered flag flew.

Meanwhile, Truex made sure that there wouldn’t be a dramatic finish to open the Playoffs. The Toyota driver led the final 54 laps and won by a comfortable margin of more than seven seconds.

While the 2 Crew still lacks race winning speed behind the Toyotas of Busch and Truex, Brad is still confident in their chances of advancing through to the second round of NASCAR’s postseason.

“One more of these races either Loudon or Dover and we should be good to advance to the next round,” BK said. “I think we can pull that off.”

Both Loudon and Dover are strong tracks historically for Brad. The Cup Series heads to New Hampshire next week for the ISM Connect 300. Kes boasts 10 Top 10 finishes and one win in 16 Cup starts at the 1.058-mile oval. Green flag for the second Playoff race is set for 2 p.m. ET on Sunday.

PLAYOFF STANDINGS

  1. Martin Truex Jr. – 2102
  2. Kyle Larson – 2075
  3. Kevin Harvick – 2067
  4. Brad Keselowski – 2061
  5. Kyle Busch – 2061
  6. Chase Elliott – 2059
  7. Denny Hamlin – 2058
  8. Jimmie Johnson – 2046
  9. Matt Kenseth – 2039
  10. Ryan Blaney – 2034
  11. Jamie McMurray – 2031
  12. Austin Dillon – 2026

ROUND OF 16 CUTLINE

  1. Kurt Busch – 2026
  2. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 2022
  3. Kasey Kahne – 2021
  4. Ryan Newman – 2019

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