Team: #2 (Team Penske)
Top 5s: 16
Top 10s: 22
Best finish: 1st (Las Vegas, Talladega, Daytona, Kentucky)
Points finish: 12th
Brad Keselowski entered the season on the back of a disappointing and controversial end to the 2015 Sprint Cup Series. Having spent much of the chase in the headlines last year for being involved in incidents that escalated quickly to brawls with the likes of Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth, Keselowski was hoping to put all that behind him to try and contend for a second Sprint Cup title.
Keselowski got his spot in this year’s playoffs fairly early on at the third round of the season in Las Vegas after taking the lead from Kyle Busch in the closing stages. He would go on to take three more wins in the regular season to enter the chase as the top seed alongside fellow four-time winner and the man he beat in Vegas; Busch.
It was the chase where wins would begin to elude Keselowski, however. A string of top-five finishes in the round of 16 would see him advance, but a 38th place finish at Kansas would see him in a must-win situation heading into Talladega.
Keselowski would dominate much of the race at Talladega having taken the lead early on, but all of his efforts would come undone thanks to debris on the nose of his #2 car. The engine would go up in smoke, as would his championship hopes.
His back-to-back wins at Daytona and Kentucky. Keselowski and the #2 team really flexed their muscles in the mid-season. It would be a Daytona domination at the Coke Zero 400, with Brad leading 115 of the eventual 161 lap distance.
What made it more special was that it was his first win at the famed SuperSpeedway; a win he would thank his team-mate Joey Logano for after the #22 pushed him to victory:
“My teammate, Joey Logano, was a huge part of this. Joey has won here and he’s really a pro — especially on that restart — and he gave me the push I needed to get to the front.” Keselowski said in victory lane, “Here we are, it’s Daytona in victory lane. I don’t care if it’s the 500, it’s Daytona, and this is huge. I love this place.”
Straight off the back of his win at Daytona, Keselowski would get back-to-back wins by taking the win in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky. The #2 team would gamble on making it to the end of the race on fuel, with Brad saving just enough to get the win ahead of Edwards. When I say just enough, I mean just enough.
Keslowski had to slow right down to make it to the end, with Brad having to shut off his engine to conserve as much gas as possible. Edwards would get right to his bumper with one to go, but Brad would re-fire his car and drive to his 4th and final victory of the year. His only disappointment? Not having enough fuel to do a burnout!
The end of his championship hopes in Talladega. After a wreck the week before at Kansas Speedway, Keselowski came into the Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega needing a win to advance through to the round of 8 in the chase.
Keselowski had won the Talladega spring race earlier in the year and had also won in the same circumstances a few years prior. Having started on the front row, Keselowski took the lead early on from Martin Truex Jr and would go on to lead 90 of eventual 192 laps after dominating the first half of the race.
Keselowski looked to be the driver to beat once again in Alabama, but a piece of debris over the front grille of his #2 Ford would cause his engine to blow up, despite having just expertly removed the debris thanks to the #21 of Ryan Blaney. Brad would be forced to end his race there, with his championship hopes subsequently being tarnished in the process.
Keselowski looked like a real force heading into the chase this year. His four wins put him right at the top of the chase grid and only a Kansas wreck and a piece of debris at Talladega prevented him from advancing through to the round of 8.
The dynamic duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano at Team Penske continue to challenge year in, year out but they seem to keep tripping over hurdles in the latter stages of the playoffs. Maybe next year, Keselowski, in particular, can translate his strong regular-season form into the chase to try and get all the way to Homestead to contend for a second title.
Featured image courtesy of NASCAR.com – http://static.nascar.com/content/dam/nascar/articles/2015/2/14/main/Brad-Keselowski-main.jpg/jcr:content/renditions/original