Race Weekend Central

2016 NASCAR Rewind: Brad Keselowski

Up until the last race of the season, Brad Keselowski sat tied for the leader in wins.  Sitting in such a position would make one think that he enjoyed an excellent year.  In truth, the year was a conflicted one, looking like an all-star at times and an also-ran at others.

His season got off to a strong start by breaking a 33-race winless streak by winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The early win locked he and the No. 2 team into the Chase and allowed them to tinker with the car and others with a differing sense of strategy. Keselowski then won the spring race at Talladega and looked to be one of the early frontrunners for the Cup.

By earning consecutive wins at Daytona and then Kentucky during the summer, Keselowski cemented his status as being championship caliber. And then the wheels seemed to fall off. The best example for the team losing their way might be the Brickyard 400.

It was during the race at Indianapolis that crew chief Paul Wolfe decided to use a fuel mileage strategy to get the team to the front. He kept the No. 2 on the track long after others had pitted and looked to be racing a different race as compared to the rest of the field. The problem with their strategy: the car just didn’t really have the speed.

Brad Keseloski’s speed seemed to be a mirage at times (Photo: NASCAR via Getty Images)

And really, the car never really had the speed for much of the season. Such a comment may seem like Keselowski was a mid-pack driver or that the team consistently struggled like the other Fords of Roush-Fenway Racing or Richard Petty Motorsports. His average finish for the year, of 11.5, really was pretty solid and in line with his other seasons.

But often, Keselowski ran second to his teammate Joey Logano, who may have finished with fewer wins, but had a better average starting and finishing position. The fact that Keselwoski failed to grab another win the final eight races of the regular season seemed to be all the indication needed to recognize that perhaps they would not be much of a threat once the Chase began.

If past performance is an indicator of future results, then the Chase proved this. Keselowski averaged a 16th place finish during the Chase and failed to make it out of the second round.

The season may best be summed up with the No. 2 team’s performance at the fall Talladega race. Again displaying a demon of a restrictor-plate ride, Keselowski paced the field for much of the early stages. Few could pass him and when they did, he found a way back to the front again. The race looked to be one where he would score a win and continue advancing through the Chase.

Too bad his engine didn’t cooperate, detonating and ending his race and with a previous DNF at Kansas the week before, his chance at hoisting a championship trophy again.

Though he finished second at Martinsville the following week, the team returned to its so-so form to close out the year, with finishes of 14th, 14th, and 35th. The sorry way to finish the season, with that unfortunate result at Homestead, and being involved in the wreck that took out championship hopefuls Carl Edwards and Logano, caused Keselowski to walk off with little media interaction to end the year.

What’s interesting about Keselowski and his relationship with the media is that he got into a spat with Fox commentator Jeff Gordon earlier in the year when Gordon made a comment about the No. 2 team bending the bodywork of their car. The result turned out to be a rather awkward interview between the story that was full of hype and signifying nothing.

Next year should be one hope for Keseloski. He returns to the track with crafty Wolfe remaining as his crew chief, he benefits from having a solid teammate in Logano, and Penske Racing looks to be the focal point of the Ford corporation. All the team needs to do is find that little bit of speed – akin to the way that Hendrick Motorsports seemed to bring faster cars to the track in the latter stages of the year.
Keselowski also seems to ending the year on one of those proverbial high notes, with his announcement that he and his longtime girlfriend, Paige White, have gotten engaged.  While his on-track efforts may have come to a close this year with a whimper, it looks like he and the No. 2 team should be able to start 2017 strong.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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