Fortune went Brad Keselowski’s way at Phoenix Raceway to put him in the Championship 4 for the first time.
Keselowski finished 16th after a long afternoon of fighting the balance and adjustments on the No. 2 Ford. Even after Keselowski’s closest competitor, Denny Hamlin, made an early exit, Keselowski had to nurse his car to the finish when it began to overheat.
“Just feel glad to make it through today and have a shot next week,” Keselowski said. “You never know how these things are going to play out. Certainly, would be a stretch by any means by how we ran today to say we’re the favorite, but we are glad to be there, and you never know how those races are going to shake out. On to next week.”
The 2012 Cup Series champion has not had a shot at a second title since that year. Under the current elimination-style playoff format, this season is the first in which Keselowski has advanced to the final round.
Sunday’s race was Keselowski’s worst finish in the Round of 8. At Martinsville and Texas, he picked up top fives. The need to survive at Phoenix was the result of bad luck at Martinsville, where Keselowski nearly locked up a spot in the title race. But inside 10 laps to go, teammate Joey Logano spun from a cut tire, setting up a restart that cost Keselowski the lead and the race.
Crew chief Paul Wolfe told reporters he felt making it through Phoenix when it appeared someone else was going to steal the final spot was good karma. Keselowski said he didn’t know if he felt the same.
“I’m a big subscriber that it takes speed, execution and luck to win, and I think we probably had some really solid execution last week in Texas, great speed at Martinsville and luck today,” he said. “If you put all three of them together on any given day, you can win, and we haven’t done that in this round, but we had one of each in all three races, and that put us in position to be here.
“The karma word sure does seem to get thrown around a lot, and I’m not sure what the hell it means, but the reality is that this year we made it through this round, and I’m thankful for that and hopeful that we can make it count next weekend.”
Hamlin’s exit kept Keselowski above the cutline and his car kept enough water in it to make it to the finish. But there was also the third roadblock Keselowski dodged – Chase Elliott, who was leading late and would have taken the final spot through a win.
“This is such an aero track, I didn’t think anybody would be able to run him down. Chase was pretty fast, and the track itself was kind of one groove,” Keselowski said. “I thought quite honestly that the race was over and that Chase was going to win. I still don’t know what happened that Matt passed him. I was pretty busy with my own race. But I kind of thought it was over and that the 24 was going to win.”
A pass by Kenseth with 10 laps to go sealed both Elliott and Keselowski’s fates. And as Keselowski’s young daughter understood afterward, it turned out for the best for her dad.
— Paige (@PaigeKeselowski) November 12, 2017