In the battle for this year’s championship, Brad Keselowski appears to be the underdog – to everyone but Team Penske, at least.
There has never been any quit in Keselowski, even when the deck seems stacked against him. Even the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have Keselowski as the long shot to win the title, and Keselowski told the media during Championship 4 Media Day to check back with him Saturday afternoon after all the practice sessions and qualifying had been completed to see where his No. 2 Ford stacks up. While Keselowski won at Talladega and ran strong at Martinsville, the No. 2 Ford does not seem to stack up well against the fast Toyotas and hard-charging Kevin Harvick.
But Keselowski has tunnel vision on the championship.
“It doesn’t feel much different to me than any of the other playoff races,” Keselowski said. “Phoenix felt no different than it feels to me. There’s elimination races, this is just another elimination race. It’s just the one that pays the most.”
Ford Championship Weekend is one Keselowski has not experienced before. When he won his first championship in 2012, Keselowski merely had to finish well at Miami to clinch the title. He has never been to Miami, until this year, under the current elimination-style format where he is racing three other drivers straight up.
A second championship would also be the second for Roger Penske in NASCAR. The entire Team Penske organization has rallied behind Keselowski.
“I don’t view our position as underdog,” Walt Czarnecki, the vice president of Team Penske, emphasized Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “The fact that we are here does not make any of us underdogs. I think the playing field is pretty level. I made a comment about how I’ve seen Brad mature as a driver and as a person and being able to handle the vagaries of this sport, the ups and downs of this sport.
“He certainly had his share this year with a sense of equanimity. He’s going to do his job on Sunday. We as a team are obliged to give him a piece to be able to do that job effectively.”
Last to qualify for the championship race, Keselowski & Co. had to sweat out the elimination race last weekend at Phoenix. In nine playoff races, Keselowski has one win (Talladega) and six top-10 finishes.
Yet Czarnecki pointed out that this season has been the winningest in Team Penske history across all its motorsports platforms. In NASCAR, Keselowski and Joey Logano have combined for four wins and Keselowski could add another championship for the organization, which took the Verizon IndyCar Series title with Josef Newgarden.
“I think the reason I say that is because it’s really developed a sense of confidence and enthusiasm, whether it’s happening in Bathurst or whether it’s happening in Texas or whether it’s happened Sonoma,” Czarnecki said. “We’ve all fed on that success this year and I think Brad had been part of that.
“But I will say this: I have seen him probably more focused in the second half of the season than in the seven or eight years he’s been with us, on this very weekend.”