Brad Keselowski's Win at Charlotte Lays Foundation for Bounce-Back 2014 Season
Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Keselowski eased the disappointment of an unsuccessfully defending his 2012 Sprint Cup championship by reminding everyone what earned him that distinction in the first place.
Over the final laps en route to his victory in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Keselowski served notice that his 2014 season won't be like his 2013 debacle. Keselowski out-dueled Kasey Kahne for his first win of 2013 and pulled off a feat rarely achieved in this day of the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoff system.
Keselowski isn't part of the Chase. He didn't run well enough over the first 26 races of the season to qualify.
But in the end, he out-ran all the 2013 Chase contenders at Charlotte and in all probability provided his No. 2 Ford team with a springboard to better days ahead.
Keselowski said he can't spend any more time wondering or worrying about all that went wrong this season, when he had to adjust to driving a Ford—from a Dodge—for Penske Racing and to a new type of race car in the Generation-6 machine that NASCAR put into play.
After winning a championship with a different manufacturer and a different car, it was a huge adjustment.
"The races are playing out different and the strategies for the Generation-6 car are different," Keselowski said following Saturday night's race. "It's not fair to really pick one area—but obviously if we had executed better, I do feel like we'd be back in the Chase.
"But we can't look back. We've got to look forward. We won here tonight and I want to win every other race left in this season and I want to win next year. So spending a lot of time complaining about missing out on opportunities early in the season isn't going to do us any good. We've got to look forward and we've got to find ways to win as the sport continues to evolve."
Watching Keselowski wheel his race car through traffic to the front at Charlotte was a reminder that in no way are Keselowski's considerable skills diminished. This year was not the result of him losing focus or anything else.
It was, as he said, a combination of factors—many of which were totally out of the driver's control.
Crew chief Paul Wolfe said that it is difficult for a team, when it's coming off a championship season, to believe that much of what was done during that season won't matter in the current one.
But with all the changes facing Keselowski and Wolfe and the No. 2 team, that's pretty much what happened. And they weren't prepared to adjust quickly enough.
Will Brad Keselowski make the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2014?
"There are times when you second-guess what worked for you in the past," Wolfe said. "You think, 'Does it still work?' But I think the biggest thing is what Brad said: some of the strategy stuff has changed with this car.
"We've seen different racing this year. We've seen a little bad luck. We've made mistakes as a team. There is not one thing that stands out."
On a night like the one they put together to win at Charlotte, Wolfe has a hard time believing they aren't still actively engaged in defending their title from a year ago.
"Absolutely from a raw speed standpoint, we were definitely capable of making the Chase," Wolfe said. "All it would have taken is two or three of the things that happened to us, whether it was a mistake on our part or a caution falling the wrong way, and maybe we'd be in the Chase.
"But we're not. And right now our focus is to continue to try to win races and be better as a race team, so we can come out stronger next year."
Not only come out stronger, but finish stronger. With his win in the Bank of America 500 as hard evidence, it seems very likely that Keselowski won't be a bystander in the 2014 Chase.
All quotes for this story were obtained first-hand by the writer.
Follow Joe Menzer on Twitter @OneMenz
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