MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Brad Keselowski talks as though racing continues to be business as usual.
The 28-year-old is leading the standings in NASCAR’S Chase for the Sprint Cup, and while his margin over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson is a mere seven points, and perennial contender Denny Hamlin is only 20 points behind, Keselowski quickly dismisses talk that being chased in the chase means pressure.
I know in my shoes, I feel good about our situation, Keselowski said. I love the way we performed over the last few weekends, really over the Chase. You want to win every race and obviously that hasn’t happened, but that’s not realistic either. But we’ve been fortunate to win two races and be in contention for others. Even when we don’t win, we seem to be able to find a way to not have a disaster out of it.
That might be harder to do at Martinsville Speedway, where Johnson is on the pole, Hamlin is starting fifth and the two have combined to win 10 times. Keselowski, meantime, has never finished better than ninth and will roll off 32nd, back where on-track mayhem can ruin a driver’s day quickly.
Johnson and Hamlin, though, have both started back in the field here and rallied for good finishes. Johnson started 22nd here in the spring and rallied to contend before fading to 12th.
Johnson would love to see Keselowski struggle early because the leader typically starts lapping cars before 20 laps have been run. That makes it critical for a contender starting near the back to drive his way out of trouble as quickly as possible.
You have got to go, Johnson said. Everybody around you has that same mentality too, so it can be pretty cut-throat back there. The priority is to get going. You have got to get up into the 20s and get a buffer of cars between you and the leader so that things can kind of spread out and get into a rhythm.