Rochester Hills native Brad Keselowski is hoping to accomplish what his Penske teammate Joey Logano did several years ago.
Keselowski already owns a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series championship, earning that in 2012 while competing in a Dodge Charger to hand legendary Roger Penske his first title in NASCAR’s premier series.
And, it was Logano who won the Monster Energy Cup title last year in a Ford Fusion for Penske.
It’s a goal of Keselowski's to win another Monster Energy Cup championship, but he wants to check off another box of lifelong dreams by winning the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, something that Logano realized in 2015.
Logano shocked the racing world when he clinched the series championship last year when he won the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, topping the Big Three of Kevin Harvick (eight), Kyle Busch (eight) and Martin Truex (four) who had combined for 20 victories.
This will be Keselowski’s 10th Daytona 500. His best finish was third in 2014 and he has experienced disappointment since then, finishing 41st in 2015, 20th in ’16, 27th in ’17 and 32nd last year.
It took the late Dale Earnhardt 20 years to win the Daytona 500. Kyle Busch, the 2015 Monster Energy Cup champion, is 0-for-13 in the series’ Super Bowl.
“I think the moves that should work and normally would work on (restrictor) plate tracks don’t work in 500s because kind of the chaos of that race, and it’s almost like you need a different playbook for the 500 than a normal plate race,” said Keselowski who will turn 35 Tuesday. “Moves that should work don’t work because for whatever reason that race gets people amped up and crazy and they do weird things and so your normal playbook a lot of times doesn’t work for the 500.
“The way racing is, especially plate racing, a lot of your success is dictated by others in specific to getting crashed out. And, it makes it very difficult, especially for me, and probably drivers like Kyle would say the same thing. it makes it very difficult for us because we’ve built a playbook of things that we feel really good about, and we know are the right moves and they work for us on the other plate tracks and they don’t work in the 500 because of the random stuff.
“You just don’t know what kind of race it’s going to be. If it’s a race like 2015 and 2016 you want to be as prepared as possible. You better make the right move at the exact right moment with the right amount of smarts. If it’s a race like I think we saw in ‘17 and ’18 it’s probably the worst thing you can do is be prepared for it because then you have great successful moves that should work and they don’t because the race is so random and they actually get you in more trouble. It’s just a very, very difficult race to prepare for.”
Qualifying will begin Sunday at noon on Fox and Keselowski wants to be starting the race from the pole position.
“One of the things that stands out to me is it’s one of few accomplishments in all of motorsports that Roger Penske doesn’t have, being on the front row for the Daytona 500, at least a pole, and boy would we like to change it,” Keselowski said. “I know it’s really high up on his list to something that he wants to cross off and we’ve put a lot of thought into it. I’ve tried to put a lot of emphasis on it, told all of our guys that I would give them all the money if we won the pole and they’re pretty excited about that. Hopefully, we can get it done.”
Keselowski finished eighth in points last season, winning three races, including the Brickyard 400.
Keselowski will be competing in the new Ford Mustang this season after last season the series showcased the new Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, which struggled before Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports won three of the final 15 races to finish sixth in points.
“I would say this year as much as any we’re putting a lot of effort into Daytona because we have a new car with the Ford Mustang and we want to get it right,” Keselowski said. “It’s certainly the race that I would think of as being the most prepared for, just by the nature of it being the first race of the season.”
Some drivers have changed teams since the end of last season, including Truex moving to Joe Gibbs Racing to be teammates with Busch, Denny Hamlin and Michigan native Erik Jones.
Truex replaced Mexican driver Daniel Suarez — the lone non-American in the field — at JGR with Suarez recently signing at Stewart-Haas Racing.
Kurt Busch — Kyle’s older brother and winner of the 2017 Daytona 500 — joined Chip Ganassi Racing, becoming teammates with Kyle Larson
Ryan Newman joined Roush-Fenway Racing, becoming teammates with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Austin Dillon of Richard Childress Racing is the defending Daytona 500 winner.
NHRA kicks off in Pomona
Kalitta driver J.R. Todd returns to the site where he won the NHRA Funny Car championship last November when the series opens the 2019 season with the running of the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway in Pomona, Calif.
Todd is in his third season with Kalitta. He reached multiple milestones with Jon Oberhofer as his crew chief, winning the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis — the Super Bowl event of the series — for the second straight year, and earning the 100th win for legendary car owner Connie Kalitta in Reading (Pennsylvania) on the way to his championship.
It was Oberhofer’s second series title in the last four years with Del Worsham winning the Funny Car championship in 2015. Worsham returns to Kalitta, this time as a co-crew chief on Shawn Langdon’s Funny Car.
Oberfhofer was pleased with last week’s testing session in Phoenix.
“We actually did good, had some really good numbers,” Oberhofer said. “We tested a lot of stuff. We did some stuff for TRD (Toyota Racing Development) which was pretty interesting. We tested parts, like new fuel system parts, a fuel pump and then an oil valve. A lot of it was just testing pistons, testing clutch discs so we ran a lot of parts.
“We have a specific clutch package. We ended the year pretty well so we made a couple of slight changes to the pack and then we ran the pack while we were in Phoenix that we’re going to be running later on in the year just to see how it performed and everything looked pretty good. We’re happy with it.”
Doug Kalitta, who has 44 career wins, will be competing in the Top Fuel class, along with teammate Richie Crampton.