Weekend preview: Keselowski ready to tussle at Texas as points race heats up
By: NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
Brad Keselowski doesn't seem to mind being given short shrift, even when it comes to gauging his chances of hoisting the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship trophy three races from now. The underdog label seems to suit him well.
While Keselowski's four-week hold on the series lead is gone -- left in the hands of five-time series champ Jimmie Johnson -- his motivation is in ample supply.
The next step in Keselowski's quest comes this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, site of the AAA Texas 500 (2 p.m., ESPN), round 8 of the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs.
While the No. 2 Penske Racing team in its current form is at a clear deficit in the experience department compared to Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus, the pairing of Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe has produced dynamic results -- eight wins -- in just two seasons together at the Sprint Cup level.
"We like our role in this Chase," Keselowski said. "While we aren't being overlooked by any means, there are many who think that we are still too young of a team to seriously challenge the 48 team (Johnson). We like it that way. In reality, we are a very good race team that is primed to take this fight right down to the last lap at Homestead-Miami Speedway."
Even though Johnson stormed to victory at Martinsville Speedway last weekend to snatch a two-point edge in the series standings, Keselowski's career-best sixth on NASCAR's shortest track likely counts as a moral win. He'll need more of the same this weekend at Texas, another trouble-spot track.
While 1.5-mile speedways have been a positive this year for the No. 2 team, the Fort Worth layout has historically not been kind to Keselowski. He has yet to secure a top-10 finish in eight tries at Texas and his 36th-place finish there because of fuel-system issues in April stands as his worst result of the 2012 season.
The chassis Keselowski's Penske team will bring to Texas was last driven to a sixth-place finish at New Hampshire. Johnson will compete in the car he last raced at Charlotte last month, when he notched a third-place run.
Clint Bowyer -- who ranks third in the standings, 26 points off the lead -- has some ground to gain if he's going to remain a threat for his first Sprint Cup title. He'll be competing in a proven winner the next two weeks -- his Texas car prevailed at Charlotte in October, and his car for Phoenix took the checkered flag at Richmond in September.
"All I can do is worry about running well and putting ourselves in position to win races every week," Bowyer said. "Bad luck is not something I can really wish upon the other guys in front of us or even worry about. Yes, we are going to need some help from the other guys to stay in this deal. . . . Even after winning Charlotte we were still 20-something points out and we're going to need some help to catch these guys."
STENHOUSE ON STEADY GROUND IN NATIONWIDE
Victory has helped fuel Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s hopes for a second straight NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, which appeared to be headed in reverse before his win two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway.
Stenhouse, who has trailed points leader Elliott Sadler for four straight races, watched his deficit slowly grow -- from four points after Kentucky to nine points after Dover to 13 points after Charlotte. Now on the heels of his Kansas win and heading to a track where he won in April, the defending series champ hopes the momentum is headed in the right direction.
Stenhouse heads to Texas Motor Speedway for Saturday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge (6:30 p.m., ESPN) with a six-point deficit to Sadler. A season sweep of events at the 1.5-mile Fort Worth track would strengthen his bid to become the first repeat champ since Martin Truex Jr. (2004-05).
Last season's march to the Nationwide crown was solidified by an error-free closing stretch, which included a sixth, a fifth and a runner-up finish to outrun Sadler in the final points. This season's victory total (six) has far outpaced last season's (two), but Stenhouse knows that consistency will factor into how this year's points race shakes out.
"I think this year we're in more contention to win races, and so I think sometimes I lose track of that we've got a championship to win, and I go out to win races," Stenhouse said. "I think last year -- we've kind of got to get back to last year where we don't make any mistakes the last three races. But I don't think it's any easier. I think it's actually a little tougher to get your second one in a row. But I think we're up for the challenge."
BREATHING ROOM FOR BUESCHER IN TRUCKS?
For a racing series as competitive as the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, a 21-point lead in the standings must seem like a substantial edge. Even with that sort of advantage and a favorable track looming on the schedule this weekend, James Buescher isn't taking anything for granted.
Buescher hopes to stretch his lead with three races left in the season as the truck tour hits Texas Motor Speedway for Friday night's WinStar World Casino 350 (7 p.m., SPEED). The Lone Star State native has reason for optimism in his own backyard -- his four wins are best in the series, and all four have come at high-speed 1.5-mile tracks much like Texas.
Buescher was in contention for victory in the series' last race in Fort Worth, but a late-race tangle with Ty Dillon ended his pursuit. Now Dillon and Buescher are battling for a bigger prize -- their first NASCAR national series championship -- with just those 21 points separating the two.
The more immediate concern for Buescher -- who hails from nearby Plano, just 40 miles east of the track -- is performing well in front of a partisan rooting section.
"It would definitely mean a lot to me to be able to win in front of my hometown crowd," Buescher said. "It's a race track that I've been going to since it opened, and it means a lot to me. It's where I got started in racing. I've spent a lot of time there and all my family and friends will be there, also."
Dillon will try to regroup after a blown tire and contact with the wall last weekend at Martinsville Speedway allowed Buescher to snatch the series lead. Timothy Peters, a two-time winner on short tracks this year, maintains third place, just 25 points off the top.