If a Ford driver is going to get to the Championship 4 and have a chance at fighting for a NASCAR Cup Series title this November in Phoenix, they have to hope to have a bank full of points heading into the Round of 8. See, the third of four rounds in the Cup playoffs, features a pair of 550 horsepower tracks before the cut race goes back to the 750 package in Martinsville.
Phoenix, is also a 750 track.
But, in order to even get that far, Brad Keselowski warns that they need to do a stellar job in the first couple of rounds to minimize their loss on 550 tracks.
“We just haven’t shown the speed. The combination of offseason rules enforcement changes and the parts freeze just kind of completely neutered us as a group and we just haven’t shown that speed all year long,” Keselowski said on 550 tracks. “I think the closest we’ve been was probably Ryan Blaney at Atlanta, which was more kind of that long run speed and smooth driving than anything else. He executed very very well, but outside of that I can’t recall a moment where I’ve seen the Fords be in a spot of dominance or a spot where they’ve controlled a race at a 550 track.”
He’s not wrong. Ford has 2 wins in nine 550 races this season. Chevrolet has five wins with Toyota the other two. For Keselowski, he’s had two top five finishes on them this season. His teammate Joey Logano has finished 15th or worse in six of those nine.
Aric Almirola is another playoff driver and said he agrees with Keselowski in the sense of a 550 deficit. He’s not had a top 15 in any of the nine races.
“I would say that there’s some truth to that,” said the Stewart-Haas Racing driver. “There’s some things about what we have with Ford that certainly has not been advantageous for us on the 550 racetracks, absolutely. And the other manufacturers have seemed to find a lot of speed on those tracks with the rules package going into this season and with the parts freeze and lack of development for this year and lack of windtunnel time and all those things has certainly piled up against us, I would say.
“The 500 tracks have been a daunting challenge for us this season, but I would say that there’s only three of them, if I’m correct, that’s in the playoffs — Vegas, Kansas and Texas. So while they are very important, every single race is important, we can still maximize our days.”
Almirola has been saying all year that the 750 tracks are their strong suit.
“I feel like our strengths are exactly that — the 750 package,” he continued. “That has been our strength this year. We ran really good at Nashville with a new car built for the 750 package and then we went to Loudon after qualifying on the pole and running top five at Nashville, we went to Loudon and started 22nd, I believe, and drove all the way up to the lead and won the race. So, I look at that 750 package as our best opportunity and we need to go into this first round and make the most of that.”
As far as if Keselowski feels like he can win his second career championship in what would be his final season with Team Penske?
“I have no idea. I’ve entered this playoff deal before having won two races entering it just like Blaney has and been knocked out in the second round,” he said. “I’ve entered it having won five races and gotten knocked out in the third round. I’ve entered it before having zero speed and not feeling very good about it and made it all the way to the final four, so no one really knows. I’ve got five or six years experience doing it and I don’t know, so with that in mind, you try not to think about it, to be quite honest. I try to just go out there and make the most out of what I have and not allow any of those connotations to either build overconfidence or to pull me down.”
What about his team? Are they ready now to win the title or do they need to show more over the final 10 weeks?
“I think there are aspects of the team that have historically shown some strengths, but it’s really irrelevant to what actually happens in the future in my mind, so I have no idea. I know that I’m gonna do all that I can to execute it and to put ourselves in a position to make the most of whatever we have at the racetrack on any given day, but I can’t quantify that to say that we’re here or we’re there. There’s just too many pieces outside of my control.”