Two years ago Brad Keselowski, seeing that his opportunities were limited, left his Nationwide ride at JR Motorsports, for a full time Cup ride at Penske Racing. The move was met with mixed reviews.
And in his first full season in 2010, Keselowski struggled. The team averaged a 22.4 finish and scored just two top-10s. They finished the year 25th in points. It was a disappointing way to start out a new partnership.
2011 looked to be shaping up much the same for Keselowski despite a change at crew chief in the off-season. In the first nine races of the year the team didn’t have a finish better than 18th and found themselves mired back in 28th in points. It was a rough start.
Then came Darlington – ten weeks in and the team finished third. It took just two more weeks for Keselowski to win his first race of the season. Since then, there have been some rough patches here and there, but for the most part, the #2 team has been surging.
In the 11 races since that first win, Keselowski has had seven top-10s, four top-fives and two more wins. The team couldn’t have timed their jump in performance any better. With two races to go until the start of the Chase, Keselowski sits 11th in the points with three wins.
In addition to strengthening his chances at a berth, Keselowski’s surge also provides another interesting dynamic to the Chase race. If he can make it into the top-10 – and with his recent performance that is not at all out of the question – one of those two wild card spots open back up. Right now Denny Hamlin, with one win, gets one of the Chase spots and Paul Menard, 20th in points, gets the other. Chasing Menard is David Ragan in 21st and Marcos Ambrose in 22nd.
For Keselowski though, what looked to be a season of struggle, has turned into a season of triumph. The sky’s the limit for team team #2 – if/when he makes the Chase, Keselowski will be tied for second in the points with Kevin Harvick. That is nothing short of impressive, considering even after his first win, Keselowski was beyond the requisite 20th in points.
In the weeks to come this Penske team is definitely one to watch. Competing in and qualifying for the Chase is all about momentum and right now Brad Keselowski has it – perhaps more than any other. Stay tuned.