CHARLOTTE — The surprising number of playoff drivers who struggled in the opening race of Round 2 last weekend “drastically changes the dynamic” for the remaining events in the round, Brad Keselowski said Tuesday.
Keselowski, meeting with a small group of reporters in uptown Charlotte, said Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers who escaped Charlotte Motor Speedway with a solid finish can now adjust their plans for Kansas Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
Five drivers — Denny Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick — had finishes of 30th or worse at Charlotte, and Keselowski “absolutely” believes the four eliminated drivers at the end of this round will come from that group.
Their struggles created a large gap between the top seven drivers and the bottom five. For example: Martin Truex Jr. is in seventh place but is 19 points safely inside the Chase cutoff. Keselowski, ranked fourth, is already 25 points clear.
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“If you’re a car that has any kind of gap right now, you’re going to just go and lay up at Kansas,” he said. “You’re going to try really hard to not put yourself in any situations. … The reality is if you have a pretty good gap, you’re going to take a log off the fire.”
Keselowski said he views the Chase this way: Drivers can advance through consistency or winning, and five of the drivers are already in a position where they can no longer count on consistency (such as top-10 finishes) to get them through.
That means the bottom five are in a position where they have to go for wins — or at least very good finishes — where the top seven drivers simply have to avoid bad days. Top-ranked Jimmie Johnson has already booked his spot in the third round with his victory Sunday.
“You do what you have to do to survive,” the 2012 Sprint Cup champion said. “… Just live to fight another day. That’s the format.”
Does that mean giving a potentially desperate driver more room if fighting for a win? Keselowski said that’s absolutely the case and said those cars should be willing to take more risks than he is — and he will be aware of it during the races.
He pointed to the infamous race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2014, where Keselowski tried to go three wide on a late restart and made contact with Jeff Gordon, resulting in a cut tire for Gordon — and later a fight between the two.
“That was a race I had to win and I knew he didn’t have to win it,” Keselowski said. “All he had to do was run like fourth or even 10th. In the moment when I made the move and we got together and he ended up blowing a tire, I was shocked that he didn’t know the situation.
“Like, how do you not know the situation? I’m behind you with newer tires, you’re not getting a good restart, all you need to do is run fifth. Know the situation.”
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