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Rochester Hills' Brad Keselowski yearns for MIS win

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford, gets into his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Pure Michigan 400 Friday at Michigan International Speedway.

Brooklyn, Mich. — Brad Keselowski drove Friday morning where he would dearly like to drive Sunday evening, into victory lane at Michigan International Speedway.

Typically, the only Michigan-born NASCAR Sprint Cup champion was at the wheel of a Ford.

But it was not the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford.

Keselowski has raced that to second place in the points standings entering the Pure Michigan 400 Sunday (2 p.m., NBCSN), and to four victories, tying him with Kyle Busch. No one else in the premier series has three.

His ride was a replica of the 1901 Sweepstakes Henry Ford raced to victory on a horse track in Grosse Pointe on Oct. 10 of that year, to reclaim his reputation after his first automobile company failed. Ford Performance used the Sweepstakes for the tradition of returning of the manufacturer’s trophy from the previous Sprint Cup race at Michigan, which Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano won June 12.

Keselowski yearns to get the trophy back, after the race Sunday.

The Rochester Hills native has never won at his home track, in the rolling hills and kettle lakes of the Irish Hills.

To do so Sunday would give his boss, “The Captain,” Roger Penske a sweep of the two Michigan races in 2016 in the 50th year for Team Penske, to which Penske adds seven years a young driver.

It would also separate Keselowski from Busch, and probably help him overtake Kevin Harvick, the leader in the points standings.

But his chances were diminished later in the day when he qualified 18th, missing the final round.

Amid the motivations and desire, a relaxed Keselowski seemed carefree around the track, six hours earlier.

With all the talk about the new “low downforce” package of specifications NASCAR is using in both cup races at Michigan this season, Keselowski was asked about “the package” on Henry Ford’s car.

“That’s the new low, low, low, low, low downforce package, right?” he said, picking up the straight man’s question with comic timing.

Penske’s attention to detail puts him ahead of pack

“I had a blast… I got it up there to about 50 or 60 (miles per hour)

“It was good we gave the trophy back, the manufacturer’s trophy, which Ford had based on Joey’s win, here, this past spring.

“I hope can get it back here, on Sunday. So, that would be great.

”But, glad to be in back in Michigan. Glad to be here.”

He talked more about his desire to win at MIS before the race in June, but the desire clearly burns just as deep, two-and-half months later.

“Ah!” he said, reacting to a question about still searching for his first triumph in cup racing in his home state.

“You know, we’ve been right on the door. I mean, geez.

“I don’t know how many times I can finish second, third, fourth and fifth, here. And it’s frustrating — and good, at the same time.

“It’s — you know, the worst part of it, to be honest with you, is that we finish just good enough to be asked,” the 32-year-old said, laughing. “It’s like I’d rather either win or finish 20th.

“But to be right there, it’s like right in sight. And so, it’s good and bad at the same time.”

It is good because, as Keselowski went on to say, running in the top five continuously, or even top 10 at a track is often a sign the checkered flag is about to wave for you.

Brad Keselowski of Rochester Hills has yet to win a Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.

And, with Keselowski and Logano, Team Penske is almost always in the top five or top 10 at MIS.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Keselowski said.

“I look at our season, so far, we’ve got four wins. Obviously, it’s been a very good year for us.

“And the last five races, I think it is, we’ve been in a position to win and it hasn’t happened. So, you know, sometimes that’s just the way it goes.”

Then, he revealed his mindset some 50 hours before the scheduled green flag.

“All you really can do is to position yourself for good things to happen to you by being up front, being a contender. We’ve been doing that week over week, and we’ve been doing that at Michigan.

“I can’t believe that sooner or later it’s (not) going to pay off.”

As for the new design specifications NASCAR has in place for both races at MIS this season and one at Kentucky — and which may be the design package for 2017 — Keselowski said he remains a fan of more competitive racing.

“I mean, the cars are very loose and very difficult to drive, as they should be,” he said. “And that causes a lot of wiggles and bobbles and all of those fun things on a race track that tend to lead to a lot of excitement.

“But, hopefully, more than anything, it gets the cars to where we can run closer, and tighter as (a) pack, and have even more passing.”

It is a big weekend of the 2016 racing season, for Keselowski, for other reasons, too.

He owns the truck driven by Tyler Reddick in the Camping World Truck Series race, at 1 p.m., Saturday. His charity also is a named sponsor for the race, the 17th Annual Careers for Veterans 200 Presented by The Cooper Standard Foundation & Brad Keselowski’s Checkered Flag Foundation.

Both foundations are raising money for an initiative to assist veterans.

“We’re going to have 3,000 people here, veterans and their families,” Keselowski said. “We’re really proud of that.

“The truck team has been fun. Of course, I want to get the championship. We’ve been close. ... Second place in the last two years.”

gregg.krupa@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @greggkrupa