Brad Keselowski has three wins this season. He’s had a top 11 finish in all but two races since we’ve been racing under the pandemic. But, if you didn’t know he was in a contract year, no one would have guessed.
Keselowski, put that distraction aside and has put together what he feels like is arguably one of his best seasons of his career thus far.
“I think I told somebody a few weeks ago that this is, in a lot of ways, the best year I’ve ever had and there are a number of metrics that you can look at to say something like that or to justify that kind of response,” Keselowski said of his season. “And average finish is one of the best, in my opinion, so the cars have been – knock on wood here – very reliable. That’s a big part of it.
“Other than Daytona, we’ve been able to avoid the wrecks. That’s a big part of it. Being in good places at the right time, having the speed to dictate where you’re at on the racetrack, so a lot of things are really clicking and I’m proud of that. We’ll see if we can keep that up. That’s one of those stats that I think defines great is average finish over the course of a season, and I think we’re at 8-point something and the best I’ve had before that was a 12-point something, so we’re not just a little better than my career average, we’re significantly better and that means a lot to me.”
Despite this type of season, Keselowski was growing more and more worried about his future with Team Penske. The stats were there but not good enough to garner a new contract. As the days of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season was winding down, Keselowski said it was growing increasingly more worried about a future contract to remain with the team.
Then, a day following his win in Loudon, Keselowski was awarded with a shiny new contract extension to keep him in the No. 2 Ford for the 2021 season.
“The emotions are obviously very positive,” Keselowski said. “It’s nice to be able to really focus on running for a championship in 2020 and not have to be worried about your job as much.
“Of course, you’re always worried about your job, but not over-the-top worried about your job as I think was becoming the case. And that, I think, hopefully will pay dividends as we make this run for a championship.”
For some drivers, a contract situation hanging over their heads could spell doom. Some can’t handle the pressure of a lame duck status and falter. His teammate Joey Logano even said that it’s a distraction.
“It’s a distraction,” Logano said. “Any time you don’t have a deal in place, and that’s one of the main reasons why I signed a deal as long as I did is that I don’t want to be distracted by this over and over again every year or every two years or three years. I want to have some security, know that I’m in a place for a long time, and I can focus in on my race team and not be worried about, ‘Am I racing here next year? Do I need to start searching around? Do I need to start talking to other teams?’
“Well, now your effort is from focusing on building a fast race car and getting yourself ready to prepare to race, you’re taking that focus away to go think about and be nervous about what am I doing next year? Where am I going? What’s gonna happen? That’s not good to have.
“It might drive some people. It might make them better in ways. I don’t know, For me, I know it doesn’t.
“For me, I know that it’s an awful distraction and it gets me way out of the mental mindset that I need to be in to perform, so that’s why I’ve done what I did.
“I can’t speak on Brad’s behalf, but I’m glad that they got it done. Brad and I have been great teammates over the last seven years and I always say one of the main reasons I drive for Team Penske and Shell is because of Brad. So, I’m glad to see the relationship continue with Roger and Team Penske and Brad and myself. I think it’s gonna be great.”
Keselowski, says he’s as hungry now for a championship that he’s ever been.
“I’m really hungry to win a second championship at the Cup level,” Keselowski continued. “I feel like we’ve been in this position a number of times and haven’t been able to bring it home. Hopefully this is the chance to do just that, so a lot of thoughts about that and the ability to focus on it and not have to worry about the extra curriculars, I think, is very valuable to us as we get to this final stretch.”
Keselowski, notes that this has been a career season for him. He said he’s felt like it’s been great, but great is hard to define.
“Great is tough to define in general,” said Keselowski. “What’s the difference between good and great? I think you could probably poll 100 different people and get 100 different answers.
“I know what great means to me. I know that great means winning multiple races a year, it means dominating races, it means being in contention for a championship year over year over year and not just making the playoffs.
“In NASCAR, that means being in the final four. That means going to the final race with a chance to win the championship. There have been years we’ve done that. There’s been years we haven’t. I think that’s probably the final definition of great is your ability to consistently do that, at least in my eyes. There have been years we’ve done it and years we haven’t and I want to be more consistent in doing just that. Hopefully, we can do it. We can run all the way through the final four and win the championship. That’s what great means to me.”
Keselowski says that there are a lot of great drivers in teams right now but realistically, you have eight great drivers and teams in Cup.
“A number of things can factor in, whether it be luck or timing of when your season comes together that can propel you or, quite honestly, deter you,” he continued. “So our goal is to be propelled when it counts in this final stretch and we’re in that. We’re in the final 40 percent of the season and it’s our opportunity to strike.”
This weekend, Keselowski hopes to capture his first career win on his home track at the Michigan International Speedway to which he says would be special to get a victory in the Irish Hills.