Bristol Comes Just In Time for Brad Keselowski and the No. 88 Team
Brad Keselowski must feel a lot like Mark Martin these days.
Despite coming into 2009 as a title contender, with top-notch equipment from Hendrick Motorsports and a solid race team around him, everything that can go wrong has gone wrong for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s protégé in 2009. A late brush with the wall at Daytona and two wrecks not of his own making out West have left Keselowski 22nd in points, with no top 20 finishes in the first three races of the Nationwide Series season.
Bristol Motor Speedway may just be the most beautiful thing young Keselowski has seen in a while. The first short-track of the season is not only a venue that Keselowski has enjoyed tremendous success at, it's a chance to return his short-track roots and to get his pursuit of a Nationwide Series title on track.
Keselowski's history in the Nationwide ranks at Bristol has been impressive. In his first start at the bullring back in 2007, in the underdog No. 23 of Keith Coleman Racing, he posted a 12th place qualifying run, which was the best the team had ever earned. And though he was involved in an early race incident that removed him from contention, Keselowski earned valuable exposure, both on TV and off, with his efforts.
Later that season, after landing in the driver's seat of the competitive No. 88 Chevrolet at JR Motorsports, Keselowski's true short track abilities shone through, as he finished seventh in the notorious Bristol night race.
Fast forward to 2008, and his No. 88 entry finished fourth in a rain-shortened spring race that saw both he and Mike Bliss running down eventual race winner Clint Bowyer before the weather turned sour.
This constant improvement at the track peaked in the August race later that season. Second in points behind the same Clint Bowyer that bested him in the spring, Keselowski ran a masterful race coming from the back quarter of the field, moving into the second position late in the running and stalking Bowyer's No. 2 Chevrolet. And his cool, collected pursuit paid off.
With 24 laps to go, Bowyer slightly bobbled entering a corner, and Keselowski made him pay with a quick, clean pass for the lead. Bowyer rode all over Keselowski's No. 88 for the duration, but never was able to force a mistake, as the youngster from Michigan headed to Bristol's Victory Lane in only his fourth outing at the track.
Considering this, what better place to get the 2009 campaign back on track for the No. 88 team?
The JR Motorsports brigade has had cars to contend for the win at every track on the circuit thus far, and now that the Nationwide Series is returning to the short track racing that Keselowski first made a name for himself in, everything points to a great weekend being in the cards for this bunch.
And they need one. With Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards both proving stout in the early season races, the No. 88 crew is out of mulligans already if they want to stay in the title chase. For a Nationwide regular team such as Keselowski's to compete against two of the best the Cup Series has to offer, the top five finishes and wins have to start coming now, not later.
Coming from a largely short-track background, it's not surprising that Keselowski has proven a force to be reckoned with at BMS. And it wouldn't be surprising to see him follow up his win in August with another this Saturday.
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