NASCAR's Keselowski confident he can catch Johnson

The Chase for the Championship is down to a two-man race as former leader Brad Keselowski looks to...

The Chase for the Championship is down to a two-man race as former leader Brad Keselowski looks to track down Jimmie Johnson over the final three races. (Reuters)

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:06 AM ET

If you were to look at Brad Keselowski’s record at Texas Motor Speedway, it would appear the 27-year-old from Rochester Hills, Mich., has his work cut out for him and the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge on Sunday.

In eight career races at the 1.5-mile banked oval, Keselowski’s best finish was 14th in 2010 and in the spring race in April this season he was 36th.

These kinds of numbers don’t exactly inspire confidence.

Yet Keselowski is all smiles this week, confident that his statistics at TMS don’t show the whole picture.

And he says he can win on Sunday in the AAA Texas 500.

“We had an awesome car in April at Texas, probably the best car I’ve ever had there,” Keselowski said in a team release. “But fuel issues kept us from challenging for the win. This weekend, I’m expecting to challenge for the win.”

Going into the race, he is just two points back of five-time champion Jimmie Johnson with three races left in the Chase.

Keselowski believes that TMS on Sunday and the final race at Homestead Miami Speedway Nov. 18 present his best chance to pull ahead of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team.

He bases that on the Penske team giving him race cars that are fast on the intermediate ovals.

“I feel like our cars have been really strong at the high fall-off, mile-and-a-halves where the pace drops significantly (on long green flag runs),” Keselowski said. “That’s been our strong suit and I think that we can keep that going. I’m really confident in that.”

It is pretty much a consensus that the Chase is now down to a fight between Johnson and Keselowski with three races left — Sunday at TMS, next week at Phoenix International Raceway and the final at Homestead.

Clint Bowyer, in the No. 15

Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, is 26 points back of the leader and Kasey Kahne is 29 points in arrears in the No. 5 Hendrick Chevrolet, but it would take a total meltdown by both Johnson and Keselowski for those two to challenge for the NASCAR title at this stage of the Chase.

With Johnson’s superior record at Phoenix, Keselowski knows he has to finish in front of the No. 48 on Sunday and at Homestead.

“Phoenix, I’m not so sure about,” he said. “We know that we’ve got a great shot at beating them heads-up at two of those three races.”

Keselowski’s confidence may seem slightly brash, considering this is his first real kick at the Cup championship can, but he has a big backer in his crew chief Paul Wolfe, who says his driver takes chances, but they are educated chances, like the one he made at Martinsville to stay out on a late caution for track position.

That move kept him within spitting distance of race winner Johnson.

“Brad studies the sport, he understands what’s going on and I think there are only a few guys in the garage that do that,” Wolfe said. “I think if you didn’t have a guy that understood what was going on with his race car, I think those calls could be a lot more risky. He understands what’s going on.”

Keselowski does know that there are plenty of folks in the NASCAR garage who think that the combination of Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus is just too much to overcome with a trio of track remaining on the 2012 calendar, but he pays no heed to those opinions

“We like our role is in this Chase,” he said. “While we aren’t being overlooked by any means, there are many who think that we are still too young of a team to seriously challenge the 48 team.

“We like it that way. In reality, we are a very good race team that is primed to take this fight right down to the last lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway.”

Keselowski has reason to be confident in that he wasn’t among favourites to take it all before winning the first Chase race at Chicagoland and then winning again two weeks later at Dover International Speedway.

“I feel like we’ve got a great shot at it,” he said. “I feel like Texas is very similar to Chicago, and Homestead is not that far off of those as far as how they drive.”

FINISH LINES

Johnson announced Thursday that the No. 48 team and Lowe’s will give more than $1 million to help the clean up of the U.S. East Coast that was ravaged by Superstorm Sandy this week. Lowe’s has already pledged $1 million and will match Johnson’s earnings from Sunday’s race, with a minimum donation of $250,000 to the American Red Cross. Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports together will donate an additional $48,000 to the charity.

QUEBEC BIDDING FOR RACE

A delegation of Quebec race promoters and politicians hopes to meet with NASCAR bosses Friday at Texas Motor Speedway with the express intent of bringing a Nationwide Series race to Trois-Rivieres next season.

The move comes after NASCAR cancelled the NNS Nape 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve last month because the Montreal promoter — The Octane Group — said it could not make it profitable.

On Thursday in Trois-Rivieres, Quebec’s new minister for tourism Pascal Berube pledged the provincial government would back the plan to bring the NNS event to the community, 160 km east of Montreal.

“The distribution and coverage of the Nationwide Series is immense, especially in our American neighbours, and this is the region which will benefit,” Berube said.

The government already contributes $250,000 to the annual Grand Prix of Trois-Rivieres that features the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series and, in the past, the Atlantic Series.

Trois-Rivieres GP manager Dominic Fugere thinks there is still time to get the nod for his race’s inclusion on the 2013 NNS schedule.

“We are early in the process (of applying), but it is one minute to midnight (in terms of getting a race),” Fugere said at the press conference. “I know all the tracks where the Nationwide races and I can tell you that we have nothing to envy to those places.”

Fugere and Trois-Rivieres Mayor Yves Levesque will lead the delegation to TMS.

Ontario’s Canadian Tire Motorsports Park is in line to get a NASCAR Camping World Series race in 2013 and has approached NASCAR officials about a Nationwide race there in 2014.

 


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