The 36-race NASCAR slate can be a roller-coaster ride, and Brad Keselowski certainly rode some highs and lows last year. After winning three times in the first 12 races (Atlanta, Martinsville, Kansas), Keselowski was an early title favorite as Team Penske led a Ford charge to open the year.
Keselowski was never far out of the title conversation all summer, with a strong run from June to August during which he scored seven top 10s. But he didn’t win another race, and there were some poor finishes as well: 39th at Daytona, 20th at Kentucky, 19th at Michigan, all tracks where he has performed well in the past.
The playoffs were remarkably inconsistent for Keselowski — he grabbed five top 10s over the 10-race span but had four finishes of 18th or worse during the same stretch, including crashing out at Talladega and Texas, ending his title hopes for the season.
You can’t say that Keselowski had a bad year, though, despite the inconsistency in the second half. He led more than a thousand laps (1,085) and boasted an average finish of 12.9 despite failing to finish four races due to crashes. He easily made the playoffs, though he fell out after two rounds.
Heading into 2020, Keselowski looks like a contender. If he can clean things up just a bit, he’ll be a threat to win the title.
Team Penske was the top Ford team last year in terms of putting everyone in Victory Lane at some point. Keselowski and his teammates combined for six total wins, with teammates Joey Logano (two) and Ryan Blaney (one) both taking home trophies as well.
Keselowski’s role at Team Penske encompasses more than just driving. When he joined the organization, he was an advocate for closer collaboration between teams, and he wanted to bring Logano on board when the driver was let go from Joe Gibbs Racing, a move that elevated the Penske organization and rejuvenated Logano’s career. The team, once known for division within the ranks, now prides itself on close teamwork, and that has paid off with results. Keselowski brought owner Roger Penske his first Cup title in 2012, and Logano brought another in 2018. Penske is the only organization to win two titles with different drivers in that span.
Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe have one of the longest relationships in the Cup Series, and they elevate each other. In his rookie year, with a different crew chief, Keselowski scored just two top 10s. The next year, with Wolfe on the pit box, he won three times and had 14 top 10s, finishing fifth in points. The year after that, he was the series champion. Wolfe returns this year, and no major changes are expected for the No. 2 team.
Keselowski has emerged as a leader within both his team and the sport in general in recent years. Always outspoken, he’s one of a very small number of drivers not worried about saying exactly what’s on his mind, unafraid to stand up to NASCAR leadership when necessary. He has been an advocate for improving the fan experience on Sundays, not just in terms of the racing, but also what happens before and afterward. He’ll be an asset to NASCAR long after his driving days are over. But that’s not happening anytime soon.
Keselowski enters the season with just a few improvements needed to be a serious threat for a second title. With a little more consistency and a little luck in the playoffs, he could become the driver everyone is talking about a year from now. But those little tweaks do need to happen, and Keselowski needs to prove he can contend for wins every week, something he fell short in the second half of last year.
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2020 Cup Championship: 8/1 (per Sportsbook.ag)
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)