Brooklyn, Mich. — Brad Keselowski wants nothing more than to reach Victory Lane Sunday in the FireKeepers Casino 400 to give him his first NASCAR series win at Michigan International Speedway.
Keselowski calls MIS his home track and it would also be the first win of the season for the 34-year-old native of Rochester Hills.
“A win here would be like winning the Daytona 500 for me,” said Keselowski, prior to qualifying on Friday. “A home track means a lot to any race car driver. It is your friends and family and there is a lot of notoriety that comes with it. It makes the losses sting more and the wins sweeter. The fact we have been so close and not achieved it is very top of mind every time I come here. We are pushing hard to make it happen and I feel like we have a decent shot this weekend.
“Michigan is a very unique race track based on everything else we see on the circuit. The most unique feature is how fast it is. Last year, we qualified at 222 miles-per-hour (on straightaways) and that is just unreal fast. With respect to that, I appreciate that quality to the race track that it affords itself to such high speeds and I appreciate the challenge it puts on you as a race car driver to have nerves of steel at that speed. I like tracks that are very original and Michigan is very original.”
Keselowski has won just once in the last 44 races, the fall race last year at Talladega, and this is the longest he has gone to start the season without a win since 2013 when he won in the 31st race.
However, Keselowski stands in good shape for one of the 16 playoff spots. He sits fifth in points in his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford for car owner Roger Penske with a dozen races remaining before the fight for the championship during the final 10 races of the season.
“We did have the test here and it went really, really well,” said Keselowski, the 2012 series champion, talking about the Goodyear Tire test back in April. “We were very, very happy with the performance and so far in practice it showcased since we were third in practice and we feel pretty strong about our opportunity to perform throughout the weekend.
“Am I surprised to not have won a race? I don’t know if surprised is the right word because I try not to take success for granted. I try to appreciate it as it comes because you just never know where life is going to take you. I would say disappointed is a better word. I want to win. I want to win a lot of races and feel like we have a pretty strong team.”
Keselowski sure looked strong in qualifying, placing second (203.166) behind pole-sitter Kurt Busch (203.361).
“Obviously, qualifying well always feels good so you have decent speed at least in qualifying trim and a lot of times it carries over here in race trim at Michigan, a lot of similarities between the two,” Keselowski said. “You get a great pit stall selection, which pit road here is very critical to your success. So, we’re pretty happy about that and, of course, we have to make it count on Sunday, but we’re off to a great start.”
Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano has a win and sits third in points. Kevin Harvick, who competes in the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing, owns a series-high five wins.
Keselowski talked about how Toyota had an unfair advantage over the competition the last time the series was at MIS last August. He said during the tire test that NASCAR’s new rule, “with the implementation of the optical scanning station or OSS that I think NASCAR is calling it which completely changed the way the aerodynamics of the cars are enforced and it severely leveled the playing field.”
While Harvick has consistently contended for wins, Keselowski is still looking for the speed to challenge front-runners, which include Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing (four wins, No. 18 Toyota) and defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. (two wins, No. 78 Toyota) for Furniture Row Racing.
“We haven’t had the speed that we need to go out and win a race, other than probably two or three races,” Keselowski said. “We’ve had two or three races where we’ve had the speed to win. That said, we haven’t been able to execute in those.
“We’ve had a number of races where we had the speed to run third to fifth and it seems like we executed very well in those weekends, which is kind of a bummer and we didn’t catch any luck to go with it. And, all of those things combined I’d say that I feel that I probably cost us a great opportunity to win at Talladega because we had the car to win there and that’s unfortunate.”
Keselowski knows there’s little room for error with Harvick, Busch and Truex at the top of their game.
“I would say right now that they are three of the best drivers in three of the best cars in the sport right now and that makes for a lethal combination,” said Keselowski of Harvick, Busch and Truex. “We are hopeful to get rid of that goose egg. We are still sitting fifth in points and have had a lot of strong, consistent runs. If you take out the dominance of Kevin, Kyle and as of late, Martin, we would have probably won two or three races but that isn’t how it goes. They are here and running well and they deserve respect for that.”
Keselowski would also like to have a little more respect in regards to his opinion on tires. He took part in that Goodyear Tire test, but wasn’t pleased with the tire Goodyear brought to MIS.
“I like Greg Stucker and Goodyear a lot, but I didn’t like my name on the press release because I felt it was an endorsement to something that I didn’t endorse,” Keselowski said. “I didn’t endorse the decision to bring this tire here and I didn’t want my name attached to that.
“Tire testing is always interesting because it is such a balance between it being a free test for the teams, free with reference to NASCAR allowing you to come. Obviously, we still have to pay to bring the cars here and the engines and the travel and all that stuff.
“They are very valuable tests. Our team chose Michigan because we have been so close to winning here and it would mean so much to me to win here that we didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity. That said, tire testing is very dangerous. I was at Kansas in 2012 and watched Dale Jr. hit the wall and probably shortened his career because of it. At a tire test, that weighs on your mind. Michigan is the fastest track on the circuit and it goes without saying that if you blow a tire here and wreck at 220 miles-per-hour it is going to hurt and shorten your career as a driver.”
Keselowski gave his opinion and Goodyear went in another direction.
“You hope that you are able to assist Goodyear in bringing back a tire compound that is best for the sport,” Keselowski said. “I am of the opinion they didn’t choose what my recommendation was for what was best for the sport, or any of the other drivers that were here. That is their decision. That is their choice. With respect to that, I don’t want my name attached to endorsing that decision. I think they made the wrong decision this week. It is what it is. We are here and we will get through the race and, hopefully, everything will be fine.”
Keselowski fans are hoping he finally gets that first win at MIS after finishing second in 2012 and third in 2014 and again ’16.