NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Keselowski’s Trying Week

It’s been quite a week for Brad Keselowski. The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion got the spoils of victory with his visit to the White House. As bad luck would have it, the visit fell on Tuesday, with the nation and the sports community mourning the events of Boston. A day later, Keselowski got nailed by NASCAR with a 25-point penalty due to allegations of an illegal part usage in last week’s race. Yes, it’s been wild week for a driver who has mostly lived a charmed life since his arrival on the circuit.

Keselowski broke into the Sprint Cup Series with two races in 2008, and then fifteen more in 2009. One year later he was a full-time driver and placed 25th. From there he skyrocketed to fifth in 2011, then had his championship year last season. There’s no more room to go upward, and now “Bad Brad” has hit the proverbial bump in the road.

The issue in last week’s racing pertained to parts used in the rear of the car. I’m not going to pretend I can give a technical explanation, or even understand one if I heard it. It boils down to the same thing that viewers of the CBS drama Bluebloods saw in last Friday’s episode, where kids had a mini-car race and Grandpa Reagan tried to juice it up—anything to make the car run faster.

Keselowski was furious with NASCAR and vigorously defended his crew’s integrity. TheSportsNotebook’s NASCAR consultant, my brother Bill, is with the defending champ on this one. “I support the drivers,” Bill said unequivocally, referring not only to Keselowski, but to Joey Logano who was also sanctioned. “They go through a lot of inspections beforehand. If something was wrong, it should have been caught then, not at the last second.”

The quality of the Penske Racing Team, which handles both drivers, demonstrated their talent in last week’s crisis. Despite being forced to make changes to the cars at the last second, both Keselowski and Logan finished in the Top 10.

Keselowski’s public denunciations of the NASCAR establishment, and his stature as the 2012 champ, have given his situation the most visibility, but it’s really more consequential regarding Logano. The latter fell out of the Top 10—the baseline for automatic playoff qualification—while Keselowski merely slipped from second to fifth. For automatic qualifiers, their point totals are recalculated in September for the Chase For The Cup, with wins being the important factor.

As long as Bad Brad makes it in—and there’s no reason to think he won’t—his challenge today is the same as it was before the sanctions—get some wins.  For Logano though, he’s now in the wild-card scrap with an array of drivers, notably including Tony Stewart, who still languishes in the standings.


The Kansas Speedway, where Sunday’s STP 400 will run (1 PM ET, Fox) has undergone some repaving since last April’s race. The objective is to make the track faster, and this was already a track whose structure and design allowed for free-flowing speed racing. The elite drivers have owned this track over the last seven years, though no one individual has dominated. Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart have each won twice, with Keselowski and the injured Denny Hamlin each with a win.

Johnson, as usual, is the 6-1 favorite to win on Sunday. Kyle Busch, now in second place overall, and with two wins, is at 7-1. Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Biffle clock in at 8-1. A possible longshot driver who’s creeping up in the standings is Kevin Harvick. “Happy Harvick” is up to 11th overall after a slow start, and was a driver identified by Bill as the most likely longshot to challenge for the championship. Happy Harvick is at 15-1 to win on Sunday in Kansas City.