It’s in the cards: Keselowski brings hot hand to Dover

DOVER — When it comes to drawing a winning hand, Brad Keselowski can’t think of a better place to do that than on the high banks of Dover International Speedway.

After all, the treacherous one-mile concrete oval does sit adjacent to the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino.

Keselowski enters Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Dover (2 p.m., NBCSN) as the hottest driver in motorsports and is looking for yet another royal flush.

He just needs to have the right cards.

“I look at season’s past, we find a way to win as a team when we have at least one strong card,” Keselowski said. “That strong card might be a fast car, it might be fuel mileage, it might be pit road.

“Over the years we’ve always found a way to take our strong card and put it in Victory Lane.”

Keselowski drew winning hands in three-consecutive races in September, capturing the historic Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, before taking the checkered flag in the Brickyard 400 at iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway and then capturing the South Point 400 in Las Vegas.

Suddenly, a season that had been dominated by NASCAR’s “Big Three” — Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. — had evolved into a championship battle among the “Ferocious Four.”

“Brad clearly found a horseshoe,” Truex said. “He’s hot right now. He’s on a streak. That’s the way it goes. It’s a tough sport. A lot of things can happen, and momentum and luck being on your side, there’s a lot to say for it.

“Obviously they’re executing, they’re doing all the little things right, and that’s what it takes to win these things.”

Keselowski, who didn’t win a race this year until Labor Day weekend, said it just took some time for everything to come together for his Team Penske crew.

“A lot of things have come together,” said Keselowski, the 2012 Cup Series champion.

“They have to come together to win. Winning is more than being the fastest. Winning is about being the best in all facets and taking advantage of opportunities.”

The driver of the No. 2 Ford was reminded about how quickly things can turn around last Sunday during the first race held at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s combination road course/oval.

Keselowski was leading the race with just six laps to go when his car failed to turn entering the first corner, landing nose-first into the outside tire barrier. He wound up with a 31st-place finish but still made his presence felt.

“I thought we were going to win,” he said. “It just didn’t come together. The whole field went down into turn one and it looked like we all went straight. Maybe we all overdrove it, maybe the track had something on it, I don’t know.

“I got into the corner hard, but not like ridiculously hard and it just locked up. I couldn’t get the tire to unlock, so I felt really, really dumb when I hit the wall and then I got back in the care center and saw the replay and saw everybody kind of did the same thing. I don’t know. It’s frustrating.”

Keselowski hopes to ease those frustrations this weekend with a trip to the Monster Mile.

He enters Dover as one of the 12 remaining championship-eligible drivers. He is fourth in the points standings, 30 points behind leader Busch.

Paul Wolfe, who serves as Keselowski’s crew chief, said the team will have to have every little detail just right if it wants to compete for the championship.

“You’ve got to continue to stay focused and try to be smart and work on the areas you know you’re weak and play to your strengths,” Wolfe said. “Strategy and some of the things we’ve been able to do over the last few weeks have been good, and the pit road has been a big part of it.

“It’s just amazing to see how this team steps up and is able to execute without any mistakes when there’s a lot on the line and it’s something to be proud of and I’m excited to be part of it.”

Keselowski hopes he and his race team can regain their momentum with another winning run at Dover this weekend.

He has one victory in 17 career starts at the Monster Mile, which came in the fall race in 2012, the year he won his Cup Series championship. He finished sixth in the spring race and has an average finish of 13.2 at Dover.

One thing is for certain, Keselowski will be laser-focused on Dover this weekend — not looking down the road to the other six races that remain after it.

“I think you get to looking too far ahead, that’s how you get yourself in trouble,” Keselowski said. “I think you’ve got to go one week at a time.

“And I know that sounds like the old football coach cliché, but that’s really the reality here because you can dig a big hole so fast when you get to looking too far ahead.”

Now he’s just looking at the cards placed in front of him — and he hopes it’s another winning hand at Dover.

Reach staff writer Mike Finney at 302-741-8230 or mfinney@newszap.com.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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