HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Brad Keselowski had finished a day of testing at Homestead-Miami Speedway and knew what he might need there next month if he is among the four finalists in contention to win the NASCAR Cup title.
“We’re going to need a horseshoe,” Keselowski quipped. “If last year proved anything, they exist.”
The Team Penske driver knows he has a tough road to just make it to the final round and to be among the four championship finalists — something he has yet to do in his career. His best shot comes Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, where he will try to repeat his feat from April and win on NASCAR’s shortest oval.
“It’s been a good track for us,” Keselowski said. “We’ve been super consistent there. We’ve had a lot of bad luck there and it almost feels like we’ve gotten it out of our system.
“The last three years we’ve had just atrociously bad luck there with random part failures. Last year was a debacle with the [long] yellow flag. It probably cost us the race. … It feels like in the spring, there was some kind of vindication — we could get a whole race in without any bad luck and win. That’s a big confidence booster.”
A win at Martinsville, Texas or Phoenix by one of the current eight playoff drivers vaults that driver into Homestead as one of the four championship contenders. The remaining spot, or spots, get determined by points.
Thanks to his three race victories and six stage wins, Keselowski sits nine points above the cutoff entering the semifinal round based on playoff points. He does have a race win at a 1.5-mile track, but that came in the second race of the year at Atlanta. Five of his six stage wins came at a short track or restrictor-plate tracks. The team has struggled at intermediate tracks such as Texas.
“We need to have a very strong run at Martinsville, a lot of stage points or win,” Keselowski said. “And then [we need] two solid runs from there.”
For the 2012 Cup champion, the fact he has gone to Homestead without a chance at the title since his championship season has gnawed at him.
He was eliminated in the semifinal round the first two years and after the quarterfinal round last year.
“It’s bothersome because I felt like we were good enough in three of the last four years,” Keselowski said. “There are a lot of reasons why we haven’t, but at the end of the day we just haven’t.
“Some of it was in our control. Some of it wasn’t. So you just hope that this year will be different.”
Keselowski doesn’t need extra motivation this weekend, but he knows what will happen if he doesn’t advance. He knows when he prepares for Homestead, the frustration will return.
“Re-watching the race is miserable, I can tell you that,” Keselowski said. “All everybody talks about, when you re-watch the Homestead race, is the championship cars. I’m [in] a race car, too, don’t I exist?”
Not really, not in the eyes of people watching who will the title. To exist in many ways at Homestead, he needs to be among the four finalists.
He already feels bad that Kyle Larson, who has won four times this year and was one of the three best cars all season, suffered a blown engine last week at Kansas and won’t have a shot at winning the title.
Larson is one of the favorites at Homestead, where he excels. But the four finalists won’t have to worry about Larson as far as winning the championship.
“I’m going to still feel sorry for Kyle,” Keselowski said about he will feel if he makes the four finalists. “I will.
“Sure, there’s probably a little bit of crocodile tears in there. I’m still going to end up having to race three other guys and it’s just a different person. When you win, you want to beat the best.”
Keselowski might not be the best at Homestead. But he saw Jimmie Johnson win the title last year when he wasn’t the best car for much of the race.
He very well could need the horseshoe so many have said Johnson has. But doesn’t a team make its own horseshoes?
“[Yes,] and sometimes they fall out of the sky,” Keselowski said. “It happens.
“So all you can do is put yourself in position for good things to happen to you and hope they do.”