CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Brad Keselowski held serve through the first half of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, due in part to a smart strategy with his Penske Racing team.
It just didn't work last week.
Keselowski's lead in the standings was sliced in half when he ran out of gas at Charlotte Motor Speedway 59 laps from the finish of a race that was a chess match for crew chiefs at the drop of the green flag. He had dominated the race, but had to settle for a disappointing 11th-place finish.
Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe immediately put the miscalculation behind them and got ready for Kansas Speedway, site of Sunday's race and Round 6 of the 10-race Chase.
"I know I speak for everyone ... when I say we can't wait to get to Kansas to prove that our finish at Charlotte was an anomaly, a blip on the radar," Keselowski said.
He goes to Kansas with a slight advantage over the competition: Keselowski got two days of track time on the repaved surface during an August tire test. The track opened Wednesday to the entire Sprint Cup Series for a two-day test, but Keselowski is one of only eight drivers who has already been there.
Wolfe, who guided Keselowski to his first career Cup win last season at Kansas, already has an idea of what to expect.
"We definitely learned a lot about the new surface at Kansas when we did the tire test in August, so we should be able to roll of the truck with some decent speed," Wolfe said. "It's going to be a very fast place, for sure. I don't think many people are going to venture outside the groove, so passing may be difficult for the first couple of races.
"That means qualifying will be very important and that's something we will work on during the practice sessions. We've shown speed in our cars throughout the Chase and I expect that to carry over to what is, basically, a brand new racetrack at Kansas."
Wolfe had been spot-on until Charlotte, which was certainly an aberration to the strategy — sprinkled with luck — that's worked for Keselowski over the past three months. Very little has backfired — Keselowski got a win in the Chase opener at Chicago and again in a fuel mileage race at Dover. He arrived in Charlotte with a 14-point lead in the standings over five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.