Brad Keselowski was smiling but you could sense the resolve in the 28-year-old after he finished second to Jimmie Johnson in last weekend’s Sprint All-Star Race.
“I think we’re a really young team that’s growing and getting better every week, every day and every hour,” Keselowski said moments after climbing from this car. “We got beat by a five-time champ. I think we’re doing pretty good, but I want that one more spot.”
Considering where Keselowski was a year ago, he and his team have made tremendous gains.
A year ago, Keselowski was 24th in the NASCAR championship point standings heading into the Coca-Cola 600 with zero wins, one top-five and one top-10 finish — and that came in the Southern 500 when he didn’t pit late, using the same strategy as race winner Regan Smith, and finished third.
This season, Keselowski is 12th in points with two victories, three top-five and five top-10 finishes.
Go back to last year’s Coca-Cola 600 and only one driver has more wins than Keselowski in that time. Tony Stewart has seven victories to Keselowski’s five. Just as impressive is that Keselowski and his team have won two races since the abrupt departure of Kurt Busch after last season. The team brought in AJ Allmendinger to replace him, making Keselowski the de facto No. 1 driver at Penske Racing. He has accepted and handled those responsibilities well.
Certainly, the team’s performance could have been better this season had both Keselowski and Allmendinger not been saddled with problems with the fuel pickup system. Both teams seemed to have solved those issues and the All-Star Race showed how strong both can be with Allmendinger going from last to second in the preliminary race to make the All-Star event and Keselowski winning the third segment before finishing second in the final 10-lap shootout.
Both teams seem to be headed in the right direction as summer approaches with Keselowski virtually locked into the Chase courtesy of his wins at Bristol and Talladega. Both Keselowski and Allmendinger will be worth watching the coming months.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
ON A ROLL Kasey Kahne heads into this weekend’s Coca-Cola 600 having scored five consecutive top-10 finishes — six if you count the All-Star Race. It’s quite a turnaround after he opened the season by finishing 29th or worse in four of the first six races and was as low as 32nd in the points at one time.
Kahne is 16th in the points this week. He’s gained spots in each of the last five points races.
What’s impressive is his top-10 streak has come at a variety of tracks from 1.5-mile speedways (Texas, Kanas) to a short track (Richmond), a restrictor-plate track (Talladega) and a driver’s track (Darlington).
This is the Kahne many expected to see at the start of the season — his first with Hendrick Motorsports — and one who has shed his bad luck early this season. The question will be if he can continue the run and climb into the top 10 in points.
HALL OF FAME More than 50 voters, including myself, will gather Wednesday to determine the next five-member class to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The class will be announced at 6:00 p.m. EST on Wednesday.
There are 25 nominees. Among those who received votes but didn’t make it last year (but are again on the ballot) are former modified champion Jerry Cook, driver/car owner Cotton Owens, car owner Raymond Parks and two-time champion driver Herb Thomas.
The five new nominees are: Ray Fox (engine builder/car owner), Anne B. France (administrator/wife of Bill France Sr.), Wendell Scott (first African-American driver to compete full-time in NASCAR’s top series), Ralph Seagraves (R.J. Reynolds official), and Rusty Wallace (1989 series champion).
There have been three previous classes inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Junior Johnson were in the inaugural class. David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty, Ned Jarrett and Bud Moore were in the second class. Last year’s class had Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Dale Inman, Richie Evans and Glen Wood.
PIT STOPS Joey Coulter will make his Nationwide Series debut this weekend at Charlotte for Richard Childress Racing. He’ll be in the No. 21 car. ... All-Star Race winner Jimmie Johnson is looking to win that race and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same year a second time. He performed the feat in 2003. The only other drivers to win both events in the last decade are Kasey Kahne (2008) and Kurt Busch (2010).