CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Winning, we've been told since the beginning of the year, is all that matters now in NASCAR.
A win should earn a driver a coveted berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Multiple victories would give a driver valuable bonus points to be used when seeding the Chase field.
Brad Keselowski wants those bonus points. He's already got the one victory needed to put him in the title hunt, and now it's about separating himself from the field.
Yet there seemed to be some questioning, criticism and second-guessing after his failed strategy to win on Sunday at Pocono Raceway. Keselowski dominated the race and seemed headed to an easy win until debris — a hot dog wrapper? a napkin? let's just call it garbage from the grandstand — somehow found its way to the front grille of Keselowski's car. It's a common occurrence in racing, where properly disposing of trash is not a common occurrence, and the results can wreak havoc on a race car.
That's the position Keselowski found himself in during the closing laps at Pocono, where his shot at what had seemed to be a sure victory was suddenly in question. Debris on the grille causes engines to overheat, and drivers don't have a ton of time to figure out a way to knock the garbage off the nose. As temperatures rise, the engine begins to lose some of its power, and if it gets hot enough, the engine will blow.
From Keselowski's view inside the cockpit of the No. 2 Ford, he couldn't win the race with the debris on his car. Either the engine was going to break, or Dale Earnhardt Jr. was going to run him down.
"I think I was going to get passed because I was really down on power down the straightaway," Keselowski said. "I don't know. I think so, but it's hard to say."
So Keselowski tried to get the debris off his car by running behind Danica Patrick in the hope that air coming off her lapped car would blow the garbage away. Only she didn't seem to know what he was doing, and appeared to try to get out of the way of the leader.
He misjudged his move, lost momentum and Earnhardt chased him down for the lead. Keselowski's only hope was to catch Earnhardt and get close enough to the new leader to free the debris so that he could he could attempt to get back to the front.
It didn't work. Earnhardt cruised to the victory, Keselowski settled for second and there was plenty of head-scratching about his decision.