At Sparta, Ky.

Sparta win stokes Brad Keselowski’s fire for another Cup title

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJune 29, 2014 

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Brad Keselowski cut his hand on a champagne bottle while celebrating after winning Saturday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

TODD WARSHAW — Getty Images

— Brad Keselowski wants another Sprint Cup Series championship.

The time is now.

And the launching pad for his second title run turns out to be a familiar one.

Keselowski dominated Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway from start to finish, leading a race-high 199 of 267 laps on his way to his second series win of the season.

With NASCAR’s new format change for the Chase, Keselowski’s second victory guarantees he will have a chance to compete for his second title in three seasons.

“I don’t want to win one championship and that be it for my career. I’m not going to be happy with that. And I want to win another championship, but I don’t want it to be five or 10 years from now,” said Keselowski, who now owns 12 wins in his Cup career.

“I don’t want to be a guy that contends for a championship every three or four years. I want to do it each and every year, and I know that opportunity is here, and it’s present, and I want to make the most of it, and I’m not afraid to communicate that.”

Two years ago, Keselowski’s victory at Kentucky helped vault him into the Top-10 in the series standings, which eventually led to his second appearance in the Chase and his first series championship.

The dominance displayed by Keselowski and his Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano, on the intermediate tracks like Kentucky this season should go a long way toward assuring both drivers are competitive in the Chase.

“The things it takes to go fast here aren’t too far off from those other tracks, and I think when you hit this mark in the season, some cars might show a little bit more development but not a lot,” Keselowski said.

“I think you pretty much get to where everyone has almost what they’re going to have to finish off the year around this time. And when you can run well at this point in time in the year, it bodes well for the final half of the season.”

Keselowski started from the pole and led the first 78 laps of the race. For much of the night, his closest competition came from Logano, who three times beat Keselowski off pit road during pit stops.

Aric Almirola’s wreck on Lap 214 brought out a caution just after several teams began green-flag pit stops. Kyle Busch, one of those who had already pit, took over the race lead on the restart on Lap 220. Keselowski, among those who had to pit, lined up sixth.

Busch did his best to hold off Keselowski’s advance, but Keselowski moved back out front on Lap 248 and led the rest of the way.

“We had good speed, so I was real proud of that effort,” said Busch, who finished second. “I got so loose there at the end – the loosest I’d gotten all day and the loosest I’d been in traffic all day, too.

“I just couldn’t hold on and couldn’t keep it where I wanted it, and was sliding all over the place and just trying not to wreck basically.”

Ryan Newman finished third – his best finish of the season. Matt Kenseth rebounded from a flat tire and pit road speeding penalty to finish fourth, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fifth.

Series points leader Jeff Gordon ended up sixth and holds a 24-point advantage over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson.

Regardless of the performance thus far, neither Keselowski nor his crew chief, Paul Wolfe, plan to rest on what they’ve accomplished this season.

“We’re about halfway through the season now, and I feel like Team Penske has done a great job at responding to the rule changes,” Wolfe said.

“But there’s still a lot to be learned or gained with this package, so it’s important for us to continue to work hard and keep building off of this momentum as we get ready to run for another championship.”

Keselowski agrees.

“This harkens back some memories of 2012, which I’m very fond of,” he said. “Last year was a very humbling year for us, so I think I probably appreciate it even more.

“I appreciate the opportunity to have races like this and opportunities to run for a championship.”

Utter: (704) 358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

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