Auto Racing

By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor - Archive - Email
Is Keselowski now the Chase favorite?
Brad Keselowski is making a strong statement that he is the one to beat for the title.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After winning Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway, Brad Keselowski might just be the favorite to win the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Keselowski posted on his Twitter account prior to the start of the 400-mile event that "whoever wins the race today will be the new media favorite to win (the) championship."

With two victories in the first three Chase races, Keselowski is making a strong statement that he is the one to beat for the title. But Keselowski isn't ready to consider as the favorite just yet.

"By no means do I feel like we're the favorite," he said. "Certainly we're not the underdog probably at this point. But I think there's so much racing to go, so many opportunities for things to go wrong - or right - for anyone out there, that it's way too early to point those fingers and say those things. My perspective is we got a lot more racing to go. Let's just let the racing play out and go from there."

Keselowski's win at Dover moved him back on top in the point standings. He entered the race only one point behind Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski is now five ahead of Johnson, who finished fourth after scoring a pair of second-place runs in the first two Chase races -- Chicagoland and New Hampshire.

Keselowski considered Dover as one of his weakest racetracks on the Sprint Cup Series schedule. The Penske Racing driver had finished no better than 12th in his first five races at this one-mile, concrete-surfaced oval. In fact, his average finish there was 17th before his victory.

"We felt like we could come here to win," Keselowski said. "We certainly felt we had a great shot at it, weren't worried about our stats, weren't listening to anybody that said this track was going to be our weakness."

Keselowski did not have the best car on the track, but he had the best fuel strategy. He ran the final 89 laps without stopping for gas.

Several other drivers opted to go the distance without pitting but had to conserve their fuel more so than Keselowski. Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin ran first and second, respectively, before they had to stop for a splash of gas with 10 laps remaining. Busch had the dominant car throughout the day, as he led 302 of 400 laps. Keselowski ran in front for just 14 circuits.

"I feel like any weekend you can run top five towards the closing laps of a race, you're putting yourselves in position to win," Keselowski's crew chief, Paul Wolfe, said. "That's what we were able to do (Sunday). Just a great job by everybody on this team. This was another small step to the 10 races. Just really proud to be able to come out of here with the points lead."

With seven races to go in the Chase, Keselowski is hoping to give team owner Roger Penske his first championship in NASCAR's premier series. Keselowski also would deliver a title to Dodge before the auto manufacturer departs the series at season's end.

In February, Penske announced that it was switching from Dodge to Ford at the start of the 2013 season. Penske, which has been with Dodge since 2003, fields two Charger cars in Sprint Cup and two Challenger cars in Nationwide.

With no other active Cup teams using Dodge, the manufacturer revealed in August its withdrawal from the sport.

"The greatest thing we could do would be to bring a championship to Dodge this year," Penske said. "I'm sorry to see them get out of the Cup side. Hopefully, they might do something in Nationwide. At the moment, we represent them. They are our partners, and we're going to do our best."

If Keselowski continues on the same path that Tony Stewart took last year, he would win the championship. Stewart won five races in the 2012 Chase, including two victories in the first three events, to capture the title.

At this point of the season last year, Stewart was nine points out of the lead. He had won at Chicagoland and New Hampshire before finishing 25th at Dover.

"Tony set a heck of a template last year of how to win the championship, winning five of the races," Keselowski said. "By no means do I want to infer that's the way it's going to be this year, but he sent a heck of a message through the garage last year."

Stewart also won at Martinsville, Texas, and the season finale at Homestead. He finished the season in a points tie with Carl Edwards but earned the championship by virtue of his series-leading five victories for the year.

Keselowski has previously won at two of the three upcoming tracks on the Chase calendar. He won this year's spring race at Talladega and the 2011 inaugural spring event at Kansas. Talladega is scheduled for next Sunday, while Kansas is slated for Oct. 21.

While there is a five-point separation between Keselowski and Johnson, Denny Hamlin trails the leader by 16 points. Clint Bowyer is 25 behind. Stewart and Kasey Kahne are both 32 back.

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