Déjà 2: Keselowski Must Win At Texas or Phoenix
Less than two weeks ago, Brad Keselowski was the talk of the NASCAR world after he pulled out an improbable victory in a “win or go home” situation at Talladega that propelled him into the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Going into Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN), Keselowski finds himself in a similar predicament. After finishing 31st in the opening Eliminator Round race at Martinsville, the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford driver is 26 points behind the Chase cutoff line and essentially needs to win one of the next two races at Texas or Phoenix to move on to the Championship final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Fortunately for Keselowski, winning hasn’t been a problem for him this season. The 30-year-old Michigan native leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with six victories and has captured a checkered flag in each of the first two rounds of the pressure-packed Chase.
Unfortunately, winning at Texas and Phoenix has been a problem for Keselowski in his career. In a combined 22 starts at the two tracks, Keselowski has yet to collect a victory.
Recent success at the pair of courses suggests Keselowski is on the verge of breaking through for his first win at either of them. In his last four starts at Texas, Keselowski claims three top-10 finishes, including a runner-up showing in the fall of his 2012 championship season. While Keselowski struggled in his first five career starts at Phoenix with no showing better than 15th, he has placed sixth or better in his last five races at the Arizona track, including a third-place result from the pole this spring.
Keselowski feels confident in his ability to pull off a victory, especially after coming through in the clutch at Talladega.
“Yeah, it’s still tough to do,” Keselowski said. “It’s not like we’re just gonna go and guarantee a win at Texas and Phoenix, but it’s also not impossible, and we’ve got the team … to pull it off.”
Edwards Looks To Rediscover Lone Star State Success; Harvick Needs Fort Worth Fortune
Carl Edwards was pretty bummed out after the first Eliminator Round race at Martinsville.
The No. 99 Ford driver finished 20th, falling 15 points behind the cutoff in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings. He now finds himself needing to win one of the next two races to qualify for the four-driver Championship race at Homestead.
“It’s not what we wanted,” Edwards said post-race. “We’ll go to Texas and go for the win. We’ll go to Phoenix and go for the win there and that’s all we can do.”
No stranger to winning at Texas, Edwards ranks tied with Jimmie Johnson on its all-time victories list with three.
His problem? He hasn’t won at the Fort Worth track in 11 races.
Edwards will attempt to rediscover his winning ways at Texas Motor Speedway in Sunday’s AAA 500 (3 p.m. ET on ESPN). Despite his victory drought, he claims three top-three finishes in his last eight starts at the 1.5-mile track. Edwards has also sported a fast car there. He has started in the top 10 in seven of his last eight Texas races, including from the pole in last year’s fall event.
Needing a win as bad as Edwards is Kevin Harvick.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver finished 33rd at Martinsville after he wrecked and was forced to the garage for a period of time. Harvick now finds himself 28 points behind the cutoff in the Chase standings.
His outlook for the next two races includes good and bad news.
The bad news: In 23 starts, Harvick has never won at Texas.
The good news: Harvick’s final opportunity to win to advance is at Phoenix – a track where he boasts a career-high five victories and has taken the checkered flag in three of the last four races.
Harvick’s start this weekend will be the 500th of his career. He will be the 36th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver to reach the milestone.
Pack Tight At Top Of Chase Standings
A mere seven points separate Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup leader Jeff Gordon and fifth-place Denny Hamlin, with three others – Ryan Newman (-3), Joey Logano (-4) and Matt Kenseth (-5) – sandwiched in between.
The five will attempt to distance themselves from the pack in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Here is the outlook for the drivers:
Jeff Gordon – The No. 24 Chevrolet driver finished second at Ft. Worth in the spring after coming home 38th in both 2013 races there. He claims one victory (2009), nine top fives and 12 top 10s in 27 starts at the 1.5-mile track.
Ryan Newman – Newman will attempt to extend his streak of top-10 finishes to five in this weekend’s race in the Lone Star State. His “lone” victory at Texas came over a decade ago in 2003.
Joey Logano – Arguably the story of the NASCAR’s playoffs, Logano will be going for his eighth top-five finish in nine Chase starts on Sunday. Also at stake is a sweep. The 24-year-old won the April race at Texas, and has already surpassed his career-highs in wins (five), top fives (15), top 10s (21) and laps led (976).
Matt Kenseth – Kenseth boasts the most top-five (13) and top-10 (17) finishes all-time at Texas. He also claims two victories at the 1.5 mile track – his last coming in spring of 2011.
Denny Hamlin – In 17 Texas starts, Hamlin has posted two victories, five top fives and nine top 10s. Since sweeping at Fort Worth in 2010, the No. 11 FedEx driver has only one top-10 finish in six races.
Earnhardt Jr. Can Play Spoiler Again At Texas; Larson Looms
One week after getting bounced from the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag at Martinsville to become the first non-championship-qualifying driver to win a race in NASCAR’s playoffs this season.
The victory marked his first Martinsville triumph in 30 starts, and his first win during the Chase since November of 2004 at Phoenix. Earnhardt’s four first-place finishes this season are his most since 2004.
Despite winning one week too late, the victory was an emotional one for Earnhardt, who plans on racing for trophies the rest of the season.
“We love winning races,” Earnhardt said. “Winning races is the best thing. I’m trying to get trophies. I’ve wanted that grandfather clock ever since I was a little boy and I got it.”
The No. 88 Chevrolet driver will attempt to play spoiler again in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on ESPN). In 24 Lone Star State starts, Earnhardt has tallied one win, four top fives and 13 top 10s. In last fall’s Texas race, he finished second. His first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win came at Texas in 2000.
NASCAR’s 11-time most popular driver will pilot chassis No. 88-810 on Sunday, the same one he took to Victory Lane in both Pocono races and led with at Kansas before he hit the fence.
Another prime candidate to steal a victory from the Chase contenders is Sunoco Rookie of the Year front-runner Kyle Larson. He finished fifth at Texas in the spring and has posted six top-10 showings in his last nine starts. The 22-year-old is still hunting for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Etc.
Milestone Watch: As previously mentioned, Kevin Harvick will make NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start No. 500 on Sunday at Texas. … With another top-10 finish, both Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman can reach career top 10 No. 200. … Hendrick Motorsports is still aiming for its 200th Coors Light Pole. The organization has six poles at Texas Motor Speedway, the last coming in 2012 –by Jimmie Johnson, who also won the race.