Despite being the driver on the bubble going into Sunday’s championship cutoff race at Martinsville Speedway (2 p.m. ET, NBC), Brad Keselowski said he feels great.
“These next two races really set up terrific, and I’m just excited,” said Keselowski. “I was really nervous about Texas. I thought Texas would be the most difficult race for us to get through in this round, and it ended up going really well for us. And these next two races I’m just — I don’t want to say licking my chops, but I feel like based on our season’s performance to date, they present the best chance for us to go out and really have a chance to win and get a second championship, so I’m pretty pumped about it.”
Keselowski finished fourth in Kansas and sixth in Texas. He sits 25 points above Alex Bowman, the first driver below the cutline.
One reason for Keselowski’s optimism is that the final two races of the season will utilize the 750-horsepower (low downforce) aero package. Keselowski has excelled in those races this season with wins at Bristol, Loudon, and Richmond. He was third at Martinsville earlier this season and led 82 laps at Phoenix.
With the points buffer that he has, Keselowski can advance into the Championship 4 on points with a clean effort in the Xfinity 500. While points racing is one path, winning his way into the title race for the second time in his career is another, and Keselowski plans on winning at Martinsville.
“I want to win,” he said. “I know we’re going to have a shot starting from the pole and having the first pit stall. That’s as good a shot as you’re going to get at Martinsville out of the gate. Of course, you’ve got to execute and deliver during the race, but I’m certainly going there to win and not thinking of anything differently.”
Keselowski is in a vulnerable spot, however. Being the fourth driver on the playoff grid puts him in danger of being eliminated if there is a winner from below the cutline. And Bowman, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., and Kurt Busch have all admitted they are in must-win mode.
There is the possibility that Keselowski could overtake Hamlin on the playoff grid and move to third, pushing Hamlin into the hot seat. Keselowski is two points behind Hamlin, who has a 27-point advantage on the cutline.
“I don’t want to play defense,” said Keselowski. “I just want to go out there and play offense. I’m confident we’ve got the capabilities as a team to do just that, so probably will not spend that much time thinking about him (Hamlin) — at least not intentionally.”
The same goes for Truex. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has won the last two Martinsville races, but Keselowski has no plans to race him differently or to try and make Truex’s day harder.
“I plan on making it miserable for everyone,” Keselowski. “I’m an opportunist. I’d like to just win it and not worry about it. I think it’s very dangerous for me to focus on one car. I want to focus on my car if I’m going to focus on any cars.”
Keselowski has two wins at Martinsville in his previous 21 starts and an average finish of 10.5. He’s finished no worse than fifth in his last four Martinsville races with 492 laps led.
Keselowski advanced into the Championship 4 just once before, in 2017.