Before Sunday's win at Kansas Speedway, Brad Keselowski's NASCAR Sprint Cup career was largely defined by a pair of airborne crashes.
Keselowski's first Cup win came in 2009 at Talladega in a race that is more remembered for Carl Edwards's car losing control while coming to the checkered flag and flying into the catch fence along the front stretch than it is for Keselowski winning.
Then in 2010, Edwards retaliated by intentionally sending Keselowski's car into the catch fence at Atlanta.
But Sunday's fuel mileage win at Kansas involved no airborne cars and validated Keselowski as a 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup contender.
Contending for wins in the Sprint Cup series has not come easy for the Rochester Hills, Mich., native.
Rough Start in 2010
After his breakout win in 2009, Keselowski signed with Penske Racing at the beginning of the 2010 season—but 2010 was hardly a success.
His average finish in 2010 was a lackluster 22.4 and featured just two top 10's, no top 5's, one pole and 41 laps led.
2011 has been a different story, though. The growing pains from moving up from the Nationwide series to the top-level Cup series seem to have subsided.
In just 13 races so far this season, Keselowski has improved in every aspect. His average finish sits at 19.7; he has two top-5 finishes, one win, two top 10's and has led 59 laps.
Even with the improved stats, the most important stat might be that he sits in 21st place in the point standings. With his win on Sunday in his pocket, a Chase berth might be in sight.
To be eligible for the Chase, Keselowski would need to be one of two drivers with a win to be ranked from 10th to 20th in points. Right now, he sits only seven points out of 20th.
With the new wild card points format, Keselowski's chances are better, but it's still not a given he can make the Chase.
The biggest help Keselowski could get is to have Jeff Gordon—currently in 13th place—move into the top 10 in points. Gordon is currently the only other driver who is outside of the top 10 with a win.
Will Brad Keselowski make the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup?
Having Gordon in the top 10 would give Keselowski a bit of a cushion with other drivers likely to get a win—or two—in the next 13 races. The most likely would be Juan Pablo Montoya or Greg Biffle.
If they were to each grab a win and not make it into the top 10 in points, that would leave Keselowski on the outside of the Chase looking in.
Like every other driver, Keselowski's chances at making the Chase are in his hands. One more win, and he would all but cement his spot in the Chase.
Given the way he has run this season, that's not a tall order.