When the playoffs started in 2018, Brad Keselowski was considered a favorite to make the Championship 4 at Homestead. Keselowski won at Darlington and Indianapolis to close out the regular season, and he opened the playoffs with his third win of 2018 and third in a row. A top 10 at Richmond gave Keselowski further momentum, but as fast as his streak started, it screeched to a halt. He advanced to the second round despite finishing 31st at the Charlotte road course, but he finished 14th and 27th to begin round two, and a sixth-place run at Kansas wasn’t enough to salvage the playoffs for the 2012 champ.
Keselowski finished the season strong, posting top 5s in three of the last four races, but it’s teammate and reigning champion Joey Logano everyone will be talking about.
Keselowski probably doesn’t care if he’s under the radar, though, because he’s in great position to contend for a second title as 2019 opens. Strong end to the season, leading to momentum and confidence? Check. One of the best crew chiefs in the garage in Paul Wolfe, who’s been with Keselowski since 2011? Check. Championship-caliber team? Team Penske has the 2018 Cup trophy, so that’s a check, too.
The scary part, at least for the competition, is that Keselowski wasn’t at his best for much of the 2018 season. He scored fewer top 5s and top 10s than in 2017, and his average finish (13.4) was his lowest since 2013.
Keselowski is a remarkably consistent driver overall. His numbers since joining forces with Wolfe actually vary little from one year to the next. He’s won at least one race per year since 2011, with an average finish remaining steady between 10th and 15th place.
The only black mark on his consistency is the 14 races Keselowski has failed to finish over the last three seasons. Only one of those DNFs has been due to a mechanical failure, and that came in 2016. Since that engine failure, there have been 12 DNFs due to crashes. On one hand, that means that Keselowski is aggressive enough to be in the thick of things. Superspeedways have been feast or famine for him for that reason. On the other hand, sometimes playing it safe and getting to the finish is what wins championships; Keselowski failed to finish just once en route to his 2012 title.
Team Penske put three cars in Victory Lane and in the playoffs in 2018 and came away with the championship. If one of the worries for the Ford teams — all of which get engines from the Roush Yates shop — was that the engine shop was spread too thin, that fear was put to rest as seven different Ford teams won races last season. Ford won the manufacturer’s title with more race wins than Toyota and Chevrolet combined. There is no question that Keselowski has plenty under the hood to gun for all the marbles in 2019.
Things look secure for Keselowski for the near future. He and Wolfe both signed extensions last year. Sponsors Miller Lite and Discount Tire are coming back for more, giving the team backing for most of the year, with others filling in the rest of the slate.
Keselowski turns 35 before the start of the season, a veteran in the prime of his career. He’s not afraid to make moves on the track, and he’s not afraid of the consequences. Again, his aggression can get him in trouble. He’ll need to finish more races this year to really be a title threat against one of the most competitive fields NASCAR has seen.
He’s the kind of driver you never count out until the checkers, because he won’t count himself out, and that confidence is his best asset. If Keselowski uses it wisely, he’ll put himself in the championship conversation.
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2019 Cup Championship: 9/1 (per Sportsbook.ag)