Brad Keselowski is the winningest and arguably best superspeedway racer in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with six victories.
After Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired with 10 restrictor plate wins last year, Keselowski took the reigns as the favorite when Daytona and Talladega appear on the schedule.
He started the 1000Bulbs.com 500 looking to capitalize on this success, continue a strong championship run and tie Earnhardt Jr. with six victories at Talladega Superspeedway.
Team Penske won six of the last eight Talladega races entering Sunday, splitting the wins between Keselowski and Joey Logano. Despite a poor qualifying effort that placed the three Team Penske cars in positions 18-20 on the grid, many expected them to move forward quickly.
They advanced through the field early but couldn’t top the formidable Ford fleet of Stewart-Haas Racing.
SHR ran first through fourth for much of the day, leaving Keselowski and teammates with little opportunity to leapfrog the fastest cars.
The No. 2 car did pace the field for 21 laps, and Ryan Blaney led for six, but once the four-car train of SHR returned to the lead, it proved difficult to reclaim it.
This prevented the usual showcase of speed and talent from Keselowski at Talladega, in a race where he couldn’t afford to lose ground in the championship standings.
After entering the day seventh on the playoff grid with 21 points over ninth-place, running out of fuel during Sunday’s overtime finish led the No. 2 to a 27th place finish. Now Keselowski sits ninth in the title battle, 18 points outside the eight advancing positions.
Following three consecutive victories to conclude the regular season at Darlington and Indianapolis and to begin the playoffs at Las Vegas, many ranked Keselowski with Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. as the championship favorites.
A solid night at Richmond Raceway where he led 67 laps and finished ninth followed by a strong run at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL before crashing out as the leader, kept expectations high in the Round of 16.
Now a 14th at Dover and 27th at Talladega puts Keselowski essentially in a must-win situation heading to the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway. Running up front and dominating or taking advantage of the misfortune of others may be his only path forward.
However, he has not fared well at Kansas in recent years, with only one top-10 finish in the last four races.
If Keselowski is to remain a title contender and be among the final four for the second consecutive year, a championship-caliber performance will be required next Sunday at Kansas.
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