It doesn’t bode well for his last-gasp effort to grab one of the final spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field.
Should Keselowski come up short in Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway, the defending NASCAR champion will be a spectator for the Chase.
It wouldn’t be the first time the defending NASCAR champion is ineligible to defend his title. In 2006, Tony Stewart failed to make the Chase a year after his second championship.
That doesn’t make Keselowski feel any better about his situation. But he’s confident his Penske Racing team is doing everything in its power, save for an engine failure last week at Atlanta, where he led 31 laps before his motor quit with 18 laps to go.
“I’d be ashamed if we didn’t run well. That’s what I would be ashamed of, and we’re not running badly,” Keselowski said. “I think the scenario that Tony had that year just shows how easy it is to miss a Chase, because these are the best drivers in the world. They’re elite drivers, elite teams. There are scenarios that are just, quite frankly, outside of your control. You combine those with one or two small mistakes, it all stacks up really quickly.
“I would say that Tony would probably say that’s what happened to him that year, just as I am now.”
Keselowski’s season as champion started with promise. Four finishes of third or fourth to open the season moved him into the points lead one month into the season.
Trouble came three weeks later at Texas, where NASCAR officials seized parts from the rear suspensions of Keselowski’s and teammate Joey Logano’s cars. The drivers were docked 25 points each, seven Penske employees were suspended for six points races and the crew chiefs were fined $100,000 each.
Penske appealed to the highest level, and the suspensions were eventually reduced to two races, but everything else was upheld.
Boy, could Keselowski use those 25 points back now.
He goes into Richmond 28 points outside the 10th-place in the standings. Without the penalty, he’d only be three points out and in much better shape to crack the top 10 tonight.
“As far as Texas and whatnot, I haven’t honestly put that much thought into the effect of that on our season,” Keselowski said. “I do know we’ve left a lot more on the table than 25 points, which is what we lost there. We left a lot on the table this year. It wouldn’t necessarily be fair to blame every shortfall on that one.
There’s also the matter of Watkins Glen, where Keselowski finished second for the third consecutive year.
He maybe could have won that race, but would have been forced to get aggressive on the last lap to get to Victory Lane. Aggressive as in moving — maybe even wrecking — leader Kyle Busch.
But Keselowski said there was no reason to wreck Busch in that situation. Busch had not done anything dirty to Keselowski to get the lead, and the driver code called for a clean finish.
Come tonight, with the Chase on the line, the same variables will be at play when it comes to how Keselowski races. He won’t simply wreck a driver to win a race, even if it would get him into the Chase.
“My career is dictated by much more than this weekend,” he said. “I plan on running in this sport for a very long time. I feel like I have the people around me to be successful for a very long period of time. That said, just driving through someone and sacrificing the code and morals that it takes to be successful for a long time for one weekend, you know, that seems very nearsighted.”