A few ins, a few outs and a few what-have-yous:
Man, it felt good to type that again, it’s been far too long since the ol’ column has been dusted off.
But this week, with our guy Ken Willis on the road, I decided to fire up “Enter Sandman” and trot in out of the bullpen to see if I can’t lock down a save for him. Now, let’s remember how to do this — coffee? Check. Home-key position? Check.
Speaking of saves, I’m going to spare you any Ross Chastain commentary. I can’t be the only one with Ross fatigue at this point, right? About the only thing I’ve mentioned more in print lately than Chastain crashes are area football transfers and, yeah, I’m going to leave that alone too.
For now. Stay tuned.
But the fact is, Chastain’s weekly drama has overshadowed some other great NASCAR storylines this season.
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A prime example and something that hasn’t been talked about nearly enough: Brad Keselowski is doing the best driving of his career. How’s that for a hot take? Take that, Stephen A.
Do the numbers back that up? Not really. But it’s also apples and brake rotors considering Keselowski spent 12 seasons in one of the sport’s premier rides at Team Penske before venturing into the ownership waters with Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing prior to last year.
But in a side-by-side comparison to his first season as a driver-owner in 2022, there’s certainly some numerical proof to be found. Through 12 races last season, Keselowski had one top 10, a ninth-place finish in the Daytona 500. This year, he has six including three in the last four races. Last year’s average finish through 12 events? 20.1. This year, that’s down to 15.7.
Keselowski limped home to a 24th-place finish in points in 2022, his worst mark since coming home 25th in his first full-time season in 2010. Currently, he’s eighth, and I’ll bet you a Richard Petty collector’s knife that most of you didn’t know that.
I didn’t, until we discussed surprises in the top 10 on this week’s “State of Florida” podcast. And it’s not just that Keselowski is there, it’s how he’s there. You’d be hard-pressed to find his name in many headlines (largely because Ross hasn’t gotten to him … yet). There’s a veteran, workmanlike steadiness that becoming a car owner likely reinforced if not necessitated. Hey, it’s a lot more difficult to put your car in compromising situations when you’re the one footing the bill. Shoot, I hesitate to change lanes on I-95 without first using a blinker, waving a hand out the window and muttering a quick Hail Mary. And I’m not even Catholic.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Keselowski was one of the hot shots, tearing up race cars, calling out competitors, admitting to being ‘buzzed” on national television. Now 39 years old, it’s patience and a steady hand from Keselowski. Why, it almost brings to mind a former driver of the No. 6 car, Mark Martin.
Among all the driver interviews I did in the lead up to this year’s Daytona 500, I was as impressed with Keselowski as anyone. He’s always been intelligent, always been willing to speak his mind and I would argue maybe he hasn’t gotten enough praise and respect for the chance he took a couple years ago. He could’ve continued to contend for titles for years in that Penske ride.
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Instead, he chose to try and forge his own path, to challenge himself instead of resting on laurels, and heads up, he’s making real inroads in doing so. Along with teammate Chris Buescher, the Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing stable is becoming more and more of a fixture at the front of the field and who knows how far the team’s progress can take it.
So, while Kevin Harvick is on his retirement tour, Denny Hamlin is podcasting and pitching tournaments and Kyle Larson and Chastain are playing the feud, Keselowski’s just maximizing speed and turning in solid finishes.
Even if he’s not turning heads just yet.
Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Chase Elliott and Ross Chastain in the Final Four
While listening to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s podcast this week, I realized we have been a week ahead on our Denny Hamlin NASCAR tournament recaps compared to where most national syndications also following along are.
But like Chastain in the middle of Turns 1 and 2 on Sunday at Darlington, there’s no turning back now. (Hey, I had to get at least one in!)
For our purposes, we’re down to the Final Four and what a star-studded semifinal we have. On one side of the bracket, No. 9 Denny Hamlin will take on No. 13 William Byron. On the other, it’s second-seeded Chastain against No. 30 Chase Elliott.
Of course, the tournament will get a week off for the All Star Race with the competition picking back up for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. For what it’s worth, which is about as much as a Chastain apology these days, I’ll take Denny and Wreck-It Ross to advance to the finals.
OK, I’m really done now. Swearsies.
Kevin Harvick to drive the No. 29, one last time
Yes, Throwback Weekend was last week at Darlington, but Harvick is carrying it on over to North Wilkesboro where he will drive the No. 29 car one last time.
Harvick is trading out the No. 4 for the number he started in and will be carrying the classic white and red colors he started his career with when he took over for Dale Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing after his tragic death at Daytona in 2001. Harvick drove the No. 29 car for 13 years and resurrecting the number one last time was an idea he took to Childress, who quickly gave his OK.
“He said, ‘Kevin, you can have whatever you want. Do whatever you want. You’ve been great for RCR, and we’d love to work with you guys to figure it out,’” Harvick said via press release. “To be able to put that car back out on the racetrack is something that we all thought would not ever happen again. But with Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing working together and making my crazy idea work out and being able to see the first win paint scheme in the 29 and to have it on the racetrack at North Wilkesboro is something I think we’re all excited about. I know the fans are excited, but for us, it’s an honor and a privilege to drive it one last time.”
Has Throwback Weekend run its course? Denny Hamlin believes so
Finally, all good things must come to an end.
No, I’m not talking about this column, I’m talking about Darlington’s Throwback Weekend schtick. At least, that’s what Hamlin expressed on his podcast this week.
“Has this run its course? Has the throwback run its course?” Hamlin questioned. “I just feel like, everyone’s paint scheme is from a different era, I don’t even recognize half the cars, all it does is make me more confused — as a driver in the race I don’t even know who I’m frickin’ racing against.
“Who’s car is this and who are they throwing back to? I’ve never heard of them … I don’t know. Everyone was so bought in the first couple of years, even the crew guys were decked out. I just feel like its lost its luster.”
Turns out about anything gets old after a while. Including Chastain drama and likely, by now, this piece.
With that in mind, I’ll make my way back to the ‘pen.
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: NASCAR: Brad Keselowski is quietly doing the best driving of his career