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Brad Keselowski again a title contender, and he's got quite a sharp edge right now: Drivers Beware

Brad Keselowski again a title contender, and he's got quite a sharp edge right now: Drivers Beware

'Bad Brad' and the Bad-Asses....sounds like a rock group, doesn't it? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   SPARTA, Ky.
   Brad Keselowski earlier in the week had said the latest rules tweak by NASCAR could be a game-changer, perhaps taking away some of the edge his rivals, particularly Chevy rivals in the Rick Hendrick camp, have shown the past several weeks.  
   And maybe he was right.
   Certainly he was the winner here Saturday night....though as fast as Hendrick's Kasey Kahne was closing at the end things might have been different in another 10 or 15 laps.

    In fact Hendrick drivers took four of the top-six finishing spots, in an awesome display of power.
     Dale Earnhardt Jr., winner at Michigan and appearing to have his best shot ever at a championship this season, finished fourth, another great run. But...." I was pretty loose. I wasn't having a whole lot of fun those last 30 laps. But it was a good night. We were fast and good all weekend."
    Ironically teammate Jeff Gordon, a four-time champ, is having one of his, well, most bizarre seasons yet, with week after week of bad luck, despite strong cars. This time Gordon didn't have bad luck, but he didn't really have a shot to win, and he needs wins to make the playoffs.
   "To get a top-five here at Kentucky, which is definitely one of my worst race tracks, tells you just how strong our cars are and our team is," Gordon said. "Daytona (the next tour stop, Saturday night) is going to be its own beast; but from that point on I think we've got the opportunity to not only put top-five’s together, but also get some wins."
    Jimmie Johnson, the fourth Hendrick driver, appeared to have the strongest car of the four but faded at the end.
    “I really think that on that restart I got in some oil, or the track was still slick from that stay-dry," Johnson said. "I got loose a couple of times, lost a bunch of track position. 
    "Then from there it was just track position deal. They have taken a lot of downforce out of the cars with the new rules; you just get to a spot and stall out.  It is the first race with the new package, but certainly up front in clean air that thing was blistering fast.
    " I got back in traffic and just couldn’t go anywhere."

   Keselowski's take?
    "I felt we were a lot closer speed-wise than we've been the last few weeks.
    "Jimmie's car was still very, very fast. Kasey's car was as well. And Denny Hamlin's car has been fast all year.
    " The same cars are still fast.  It's just maybe the delta between what we're missing between them is a lot closer."

     Perhaps Keselowski was just still fired up from that strange Friday afternoon run-in with Juan Pablo Montoya, that forced Keselowski to his backup Dodge.
there's always that little bit extra you get when you're fired up.  A lot of people would say that's a bad thing in a race car.  The adrenaline is the worst thing that can happen to you, because you don't focus as well.  Well, maybe it's not.
   "The group of guys I have are just bad-asses.  They are.  They're bad-asses," Keselowski said almost gleefully.
    "They put together a backup car from last year in 100-degree heat in an hour's time. Not even an hour; like 40 minutes.  
     "Got it on the track and got to run our laps for practice to make the adjustments we needed to be fast today.  And that's what bad-asses do. That's what got us to victory lane.
     "I'm proud of these guys, I'm proud of them....damn proud of them."

    Paul Wolfe, his crew chief, called it "probably the toughest weekend as a team we've ever had.
    "Not only did we have really high temperatures, but having trouble on the first lap on the track always sets you back.
     "One thing about all the guys is it seems we're able to find another level to work when it comes to adversity. You see that with the driver as well -- look back to last summer when 'Bad Brad' had a broken foot.  
      "I don't know if he thrives off that or what... but it seems like when some people might think we're down and out, we're able to find a whole other level.
     "The biggest thing here was there was a lot of work to do changing the engine (Friday) and not having all the practice time everybody else had."

   So Keselowski and Wolfe go to Daytona this week, the midpoint of the season, with more wins than any other team...and yet just 10th in the Sprint Cup standings.
   Keselowski is defensive about that: "Tenth in points because we had the reliability issues early in the year.  You take out our two or three reliability issues, we're a legitimate top-five team.
    "Look at Kyle Busch. They're not a 14th or 15th-place team, but they had three races where they blew up....and the penalty for those races is catastrophic.
   "Our team lost from 50 to 70 points in those two races.  Give us those points back and we're 20 out of the lead at best, and maybe 30 or 40 at worst."
    As it stands, Keselowski and Wolfe are a whopping 96 points behind tour leader Matt Kenseth.

 Victory lane, again (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




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