Stacked up against the “Big 3” in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Brad Keselowski would say his Team Penske group is somewhere around fourth to eighth.
Yet as the playoffs approach, the former series champion is optimistic.
“Similar to last year,” Keselowski told RACER. “Optimistic that we’ll find what we need when it’s time — knowing that we don’t have what we need right now.”
And that would be?
“We got to execute, and we got to find speed,” said Keselowski. “And that’s more than a team thing, that’s a company thing.”
Although he’s winless and knows he’s not among the best in the series right now, Keselowski doesn’t approach race weekend any different. He says he tries to keep an open mind about what the No.2 Ford can find from one week to next, while everyone else might find themselves slower. Like a push and pull between tech inspection and car development from the teams.
Keselowski had led 322 laps (across 11 races) and picked up four stage wins going into the final race of July with 11 top-10 finishes. But Keselowski also has four DNFs and an average finish of 14.7 that is currently on par with the worst he’s ever previously accumulated in a full season as the No. 2 team’s driver (14.8 in 2011, 14.9 in 2013).
“I guess if I was to recap our year, we started out great in Daytona winning the [Clash], and we just haven’t been able to find victory lane again,” Keselowski said. “Think we’ve had some times where we were definitely capable of winning, the plate tracks have been our strength speed wise. Martinsville and those tracks, we’ve ran pretty decent. Made a few mistakes at Martinsville, and that’s probably been our best track speed wise.
“The rest we’ve kind of been in that fifth to 10th range, sometimes a little bit better, sometimes a little bit worse. And it seems like the gap between first to fifth is so much bigger than what it’s ever been that usually you can win from fifth, but this season hasn’t played out that way. Generally, when you’re fifth, you’re like a tenth off. This year when you’re fifth, you’re like three tenths off, and that’s not close enough.
“We’ve got to close to the speed gap. That’s not to say we’re not a competitive car, we are, but you’re not going to win being a fifth-place car and that’s much different than it has been for my career.”