On Sunday, Brad Keselowski started his 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup off on the perfect note – scoring the victory at Chicagoland Speedway to lock himself into the second round.
“I guess you couldn’t ask for a better way to start the Chase other than starting up front,” Keselowski commented post-race. “Just phenomenal with the way things played out. I don’t know if we were the fastest car. There were some runs where I thought we were really fast and then some runs where I thought the 4 and the 42 were really fast. It was so hard to tell. Whoever had the cleanest air was really at such an advantage.”
It wasn’t easy on the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford as he lost track position in the middle part of the race due to a loose wheel during a pit stop.
“That was something that we all thought was awful at the time, but I guess it worked out. Then from there we just fought, just climbed and clawed,” Keselowski continued. “I think we got up to eighth, and Paul made the call or decision to pit a little bit late. It worked out perfectly. We were able to be on pit road right as the yellow came out. That put us from eighth to fourth, I think. We were able to take advantage with that on the restarts, get up to third.”
Keselowski says despite having to go to the back of the field middle of the race, it didn’t deter his confidence, but he knew that they’d need to catch a break. The break came with the pit stop strategy played by crew chief Paul Wolfe.
We restarted 16th or 17th in position, but probably had to be 30th or something in car order. So to get by that many cars, get close to the front, was really an incredible run, and put us in position to capitalize when that yellow came out. That was something that all came together,” he explained. “From there, I knew once we got to fourth with 30 or 40 to go, it was going to be about executing the restarts. We had an okay one the first time where we just really held serve. The outside groove was very, very difficult to get a good restart in with wheel spin.”
Running in third on a late race restart with 16 laps to go, Keselowski watched as Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick battled back and forth for the lead. When the hole opened between the pair a little, he made his move, splitting them to take the lead.
“I just saw a hole and I went for it,” he commented. “The 4 and the 42 were racing really hard, doing all the things they needed to do. It just opened a hole. I didn’t know if my car would stick or not, but I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t try it. I tried it, it did. That got us into the lead. Even that was going to be close. I think the 42 was quite a bit faster as the long run went. We got that yellow. Things evened out. We were able to take advantage from there.”
Keselowski says the win gives him a “hall pass” for the next two weeks, but knows that he has to be on his toes in the final seven races if he wants to have a shot at the championship.
“Nobody cares that we won Chicago, nobody cares that we won Richmond or the other three races. It keeps resetting. You have to reset yourself. You have to keep developing the car and pushing as a team, whether it’s on pit road, the car handling, spec, whatever it might be, or driver tactics,” Keselowski explained. “So I want to be thankful for today, but I know there’s a long ways to go. Today was about as much of a statement as you can make on a week one with ten weeks to go. I don’t want to understate it but certainly don’t want to overstate it. It’s a hard balance.”