It was just a few short weeks ago when it appeared as if Brad Keselowski would come nowhere near making the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Ranking 22nd in the points standings after a 15th-place finish at Daytona in July, "Special K"'s fuel-mileage win at Kansas in June started to prove the typical fluke that often accompanies such wins.
According to Keselowski during NASCAR's weekly teleconference Tuesday, however, the perceived fluke actually became a turning point for the No. 2 Penske Racing team.
"[The Kansas win] showed that if we keep doing the right things, which we feel like we're doing, that we will be rewarded," Keselowski said.
"You start to have those moments where you second-guess yourself and the hard work you're putting into it and whether it really matters, and the win at Kansas kind of showed that hard work gets rewarded. I think that builds confidence in the whole team."
That confidence has Keselowski sitting 12th in the standings heading into this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, 52 points behind Tony Stewart for 10th place and a guaranteed spot in the Chase.
As of now, he would be the top Wild Card entry, adding a win at Pocono in August to become the only driver outside the top 10 in points with multiple victories.
Not surprisingly, Keselowski credited NASCAR for putting together a season format that places emphasis on winning every race.
"It's been a great opportunity for both our fans, our teams, our sponsors, everyone really in the sport, because I think it shows a commitment to making every race important, to holding value to every race," Keselowski said. "That, perhaps, was lost in the pre-Chase era—not the pre-Chase era but the pre-wild card Chase era. And I think that's important to everyone.
"I think it's important to know when we come to Pocono in the fall—perhaps in years before it was—I don't want to say a meaningless race, but it was just kind of another race. Now, we look at Pocono—the win that I had at Pocono completely changes the whole forecast for the playoff system, and I don't think we saw that before."
A major difference between the Brad Keselowski of years past and the Brad Keselowski of 2011 is the relative lack of feuds in which "Special K" is the focal point.
Few can forget last season's Bristol battle between him and Kyle Busch, when Keselowski insulted Busch during driver intros and the eventual race winner acted like he forgot the driver of the then-No.12 in post-race interviews.
Of course, Keselowski thinks things may still not be over between Busch and himself.
"I guess that's why we keep racing, because you think sometimes things are better and you think sometimes things are worse, and you find out, and you kind of get your quarterly report every race as [team owner] Roger [Penske] likes to say," Keselowski said.
"I guess we'll find out next time we're side by side at Bristol. I don't know."
All quotes were recorded via NASCAR's weekly teleconference.