Brooklyn, Mich. — Brad Keselowski has the first pole at Michigan International Speedway of his career for the Pure Michigan 400 Sunday.
But he also has a nagging suspicion about why his Ford suddenly had the pace over the Toyotas.
“It’s a special track for me to have any kind of success at,” said Keselowski, who now has 14 poles in NASCAR Cup racing and two this season. “Any success you have at your home track is right there with having success at the biggest races of the year, like the Daytona 500.”
He credited his performance to changes made by the Team Penske crew, headed by his longtime crew chief Paul Wolfe.
“I’m just thrilled with the result, thrilled with the effort and the competitive spirit of our team to handle a big pitch of adversity right off the start and to come away with a tremendous result,” Keselowski said.
It is his first pole in 17 races at MIS.
But he said he did not think it resulted so much from his car’s improved speed as the sudden lack of pace from Toyota.
And he said he was not surprised.
“Well, you know what? About this time every year NASCAR takes all the cars and checks to make sure the competitive balance is where they want it to be,” Keselowski said.
“You know, I think we’ve seen in the last two or three weeks that the Toyota cars are pretty dominant. So, we had a strong suspicion that those guys would kind of tune it down this weekend, so as not to post a pretty big number in inspection that didn’t balance back out the competition.
“And, potentially that’s right because our team hasn’t done much differently, and those guys are just not as fast as they’ve been the last few weeks.”
The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
“We’ll know for certain at the end of the week, based on whether NASCAR takes the cars after the race that day,” Keselowski said.
“This is their last opportunity on a track that has the potential to showcase the important thing for the (playoffs), which is aerodynamics and horsepower. Because the (playoffs are) predominantly tracks of a mile and a half or of a similar high-speed nature to this.
“So, this is kind of the last opportunity for NASCAR to do that.”
Keselowski and the Penske Team anticipated the situation, he said.
“We came into the weekend thinking that some of those really strong cars would tune it down, and knowing that we’d probably be pretty close to what we had for the past few weeks,” he said.
“I’m not sure that’s what happened, but it kind of looks that way, at the moment.
“But we’ll still take what we can get.”
Logano seeks win
Given the points standings, Keselowski’s Penske teammate Joey Logano almost certainly has to win one of the next four races, Michigan, Bristol, Darlington or Richmond, before the playoffs begin Sept. 17 in Chicago.
“We were able to make some good improvements on our race car and get to where we almost got the pole,” Logano said. “We missed it by seven-thousandths. So close!”
Keselowski and Logano have looked for more pace in their Fords for the stretch of races on the big tracks.
“Starting towards the front is a big deal here,” Logano said, of MIS, where a repaving a half-dozen years ago has yet to yield an adequate race groove, to provide the side-by-side, multi-car action for which MIS had been noted for years.
“But anything can happen, the way the strategy is here, with the stages and the tires not falling off much.
“So, having speed in your car is always a big help, and it seems like we have that in our Shell/Pennzoil Ford this week.”
After a tough season, in which bad fortune arguably has thwarted his efforts more than the lack of pace, Logano said he would be thrilled to get a win.
“You have no idea,” he said. “Believe me, as you get closer to this thing, it becomes more and more real. But it is what it is. That’s sports.
“As an athlete you have to learn how to handle pressure and that’s not just the drivers in this situation, it’s the whole team. Everybody has to do better in these occasions because the pressure is on.
“Let’s be honest. The pressure is on, but a lot of items it’s going to bring the best out of you, or sometimes the worst. You’ve got to make sure it’s the best.”
Cindric takes fifth in trucks race
Keselowski is carrying on the family tradition of owning racing teams, and his NASCAR truck series driver, Austin Cindric, is hot.
Cindric, 18, drove like a 38-year-old after the start of the third stage of the LTi Printing 200 truck race Saturday, to hold the lead despite having a slower truck than his pursuers.
Lap after lap, Cindric — son of Tim Cindric, the president of Team Penske and the crew chief for Will Power in the IndyCar Series — held stubbornly to the lead before finishing fifth.
It is Cindric’s fifth consecutive top-10 finish in the truck series, put him in 10th spot in the series and in a more comfortable playoff position.
Chase Briscoe, another driver for Brad Keselowski Racing (BKR) finished ninth.
Briscoe is fourth in the series, heading towards the playoffs.