HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Brad Keselowski has his 2012 NASCAR championship trophy still in its original box. It’s tucked away in a garage next to an old sled.
Out of sight, out of mind.
He walks by it occasionally. Never opens it. Never even peeks inside. It does provide a brief reminder of his greatest career accomplishment.
Keselowski might end up dusting it off and getting it ready for some company.
Keselowski is one of four title contenders who will vie for the Monster Cup championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The highest finisher among Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. will win the title.
“There’s going to be a time for reflection in my life for these things, but at the moment, you’re just so busy just trying to make today happen that you don’t really have a chance to sit and think about yesterday,” Keselowski said.
Keselowski was the last of the four drivers to qualify for the championship race. He squeaked in on points last weekend at Phoenix.
Having a chance to win a second championship started sinking in a short time later. It didn’t take Keselowski long to put it in perspective.
“It’s a huge opportunity to add to my legacy,” Keselowski said. “Winning one championship is really great; it’s a special thing to do. But you don’t really have legacies until you have multiple, and that opportunity’s in front of me right now.”
The Team Penske star quickly noted that there have been only 15 drivers to win multiple championships in the 69 years of NASCAR’s Cup Series.
The exclusive club includes 12 Hall of Fame members and three others — Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson — who appear to be first-ballot locks.
“It’s a chance to really make myself a Hall of Fame driver,” Keselowski said. “That’s not something that anyone takes for granted, I don’t think. Not something I take for granted, I know that. And that opportunity is one race in front of me. I mean, I literally only have to beat three people, so it’s in some ways hard to really digest or comprehend for me with all the different circumstances that are in front of me.”
For Keselowski to make it happen, he probably needs to find better success at a 1 1/2-mile track.
Keselowski has two top-five finishes and led just 23 laps on mile-and-a-half tracks since early March. That’s eight races and includes two 39th-place finishes.
“I feel, in a lot of ways, that we were more competitive the last three years than we have been this year, and we didn’t make the final four,” Keselowski said. “So in some ways, it almost feels like there’s a bit of divine intervention with the way everything went last week to be where I’m at here, and I’m hoping that we can see that through.”
Keselowski finished fifth two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, one of NASCAR’s intermediate-sized tracks, so the Michigan native has some momentum. Just not as much as the team would like.
“We’ve had a season, as you all know, with some ups and downs,” said Walt Czarnecki, executive vice president of Team Penske. “But we’re here and we’re prepared. We think we’ve made some real gains, particularly over the last three of four weeks. And I think you’ll find that the Miller Lite Ford and Brad are going to be competitive on Sunday afternoon.”
Even though Keselowski is widely regarded as a long shot because of Truex’s season-long dominance , Harvick’s recent resurgence and Busch’s three wins in the last eight races, no one should count out Team Penske.
Roger Penske’s vast racing organization has 31 victories this season. It won the IndyCar championship with Josef Newgarden and is vying for an owners’ title in the Xfinity Series.
“It’s really developed a sense of confidence and enthusiasm,” Czarnecki said. “We’ve all fed on that success this year, and Brad has been a part of that. I have seen him probably more focused in this second of the season than in the seven or eight years he’s been with us.”
Keselowski could help his boss secure NASCAR and IndyCar championships in the same season for the first time in his storied career.
If so, that five-year trophy stashed away in the garage might need to be opened and properly displayed next to the latest one.
“I guess that will be cool one day if I ever have grandkids that will want to hear my story,” Keselowski said. “Maybe not.”
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