Rochester Hills’ Keselowski seeks first win at MIS

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Brooklyn — Brad Keselowski has accomplished a lot during his short NASCAR Sprint Cup career, but winning a race at Michigan International Speedway has still eluded him.

Keselowski, a 32-year-old native of Rochester Hills, hopes to change that Sunday in the Firekeepers Casino 400 at the two-mile superspeedway. He qualified 15th (197.569) Friday afternoon for the race in his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford for Team Penske. His teammate Joey Logano won the pole with a lap of 199.557 mph.

Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, already has two wins this season — Las Vegas and Talladega — and is coming off a third-place finish Monday at Pocono after winning the pole for the race.

“There’s so much going on, you look at the rules package and it’s certainly the thing that’s on everyone’s mind, the biggest piece of the equation with respect to the new, new lower downforce package that’s being kind of debuted this weekend,” said Keselowski, who sits third in the points standings.

“The speeds are blazing fast down the straightaway, but quite a bit slower in the corner and that’s been interesting. It is a nice change of pace and we’re kind of all learning together on how that will affect the racing, and I don’t think anyone will have an answer until they drop the green (flag) on Sunday, which seems to normally be the case here where the races are usually a lot different than practice and qualifying.

“I know it’s a lot of fun to drive. You enter the corner at almost 220 miles-per-hour, you turn left and the front goes and the back doesn’t always go with it and that’s quite a feeling for sure. It’s a unique challenge and I think it’s going to bring out some of the best racing we’ve seen in quite some time, so I’m really optimistic about it and hope that we can turn this opportunity into a victory here at Michigan.”

With the new rules in place, the brakes become more of a factor.

“We used to talk about brakes and the conversation before was how little we could get away with,” Keselowski said. “Now it will be about how much more we need to put on. It’s certainly a different conversation, the difference between the fastest and slowest speeds on the track and how that will all come together. We are going to learn together.

“My intuition says the track is going to get really wide in the corners because you’re going to get crazy sideways loose and you’re going to use up a lot of real estate that could make for some really fun racing, really back to the old Michigan (Speedway).

“All those things are really interesting, but I could be completely wrong. I don’t think anyone knows the real answer there. When we get going we’ll all find out, but certainly a much different challenge than what we’ve had in the past here at Michigan and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think that’s a good thing.”

Keselowski’s best shot at a win at MIS was during his 2012 title run when he was leading the August race with 10 laps remaining before losing the lead to Jimmie Johnson and eventual race winner Greg Biffle. Keselowski has four consecutive top-10 finishes at the track, including a sixth in last June’s rain-shortened race won by Kurt Busch.

“We’ve been really close with a handful of second- and third-place finishes over the last few years here and we’re confident we can find that last little piece to make it a win here because we’re on quite a streak with our team,” Keselowski said. “We’ve had a lot of strong runs the last few weeks and that’s added up to a win at Talladega four or five weeks ago and a steady kind of moving up in the points from seventh to third now.”

Keselowski has five straight top-10 finishes, starting with the win at Talladega, a 10th at Kansas City, a sixth at Dover, fifth at Charlotte, then third at Pocono.

Controversy has surrounded Keselowski, getting penalized for an unapproved body modification during the first round of pits at Pocono when the team’s jackman went to pull the right tire, ultimately putting a hip check into the car, causing a dent which could aid a car aerodynamically.

NASCAR forced Keselowski to come back in the pits and fix the problem, costing him valuable time.

Former Sprint Cup star Jeff Gordon, now an analyst for Fox Sports, said Keselowski had a similar dent in the win at Las Vegas.

Said Gordon during the broadcast: “Do you guys remember the last time that this happened and the results? I think it was Las Vegas. Same penalty (the video rolls to 2016 Las Vegas of a crew member’s body making contact with the car during pit stop). Here it comes … hip check. Bam.”

Then, Gordon added how the body modification “creates a little more sideforce, gives them a little more downforce and speed to be able to lean on. You can maybe free up the car a little more and have a little bit more to lean on to make the car go faster,” saying they found this out in the wind tunnel.

Keselowski and Gordon talked Friday morning.

“We talked at length and I think there were certainly some different opinions and I don’t necessarily know if that’s going to change,” Keselowski said. “My big thing is that I don’t want somebody who is invested in another team talking about my race car in a derogatory form or even in a perceived derogatory form. I don’t think that’s right and I’m going to defend my team in those situations no matter who it is.

“And beyond that I think he has a position that requires his insight, but there’s some limitations to what insight I think is fair play for that position when you’re still invested in the sport and I feel that was over the line. I just want to make sure that if anyone wants to criticize me and how I drive the race car, that’s one thing, but not my team and not for things that could be perceived as self-serving.”

Gordon owns Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 Kobalt Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.