Keselowski upped his game this year

August, 30, 2011

I decided to ride out the Saturday night portion of Hurricane Irene (my thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected) at ESPN, watching the Bristol race with ESPN NASCAR analyst Ricky Craven.

As the race played out and Brad Keselowski took the lead, we discussed how wild the Chase wild-card race would become if Keselowski caught and passed Tony Stewart for 10th in the standings.

If that happens, it's blown wide open. Denny Hamlin would comfortably sit in one wild-card spot, but the other one becomes up for grabs. Paul Menard sits in 20th, with David Ragan and Marcos Ambrose right behind and all of them have one victory this season. Any could fall in or out of the top 20. And whoever finishes highest among the three could get in.

Then there are a lot of quality drivers who could be in "win and you're in" mode at Richmond, including Stewart, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin.

The possibilities are endless, and that's just how I like them. Give me unpredictability and wildness, you know, everything I don't like about the weather.

But the man who could create the most havoc is Saturday's winner, Keselowski, and it's time to write more about him.

Three's Company

Saturday's win wasn't just impressive because it was Keselowski's third of the season, but his consistently hot streak continued with his fourth consecutive top-three finish.

And thanks to NASCAR's sultan of stats, Mike Forde, for providing me numbers, we know Keselowski is the first driver to pull off that feat this season. There was only one streak of that kind in 2010, by Jimmie Johnson, and no one did it in 2009.

If Keselowski gets a fifth straight top-three, he'll be the first driver to do that since Kyle Busch in 2008.

Trivia break: Other than Busch, who were the other two drivers with streaks of four straight top-three finishes since 2000?

From Zero to Three

Saturday was Keselowski's third win this year, impressive considering he was 25th in points last season and didn't finish better than 10th in a race.

In the Cup Series modern era (since 1972), only one other driver won at least three races following a season in which he ran the full schedule but finished 25th or lower in points. That was Kurt Busch in 2002. He was 27th in 2001, and by 2004, he was Cup Series champion.

Only five drivers total since 1972 finished outside the top 20 one season when running a full schedule, and then won three or more races the next season.

Trivia break: Before Keselowski, who was the last driver to win three times after finishing lower than 20th in the standings the previous season? (hint: it was in the last three seasons)

The Penske File

The day after Keselowski won, Penske's Will Power won the IndyCar Series race at Sonoma.

I heard an interesting fact on the race broadcast, and with help from my right-hand man, Chris Lees (he literally sits to my right), we were able to confirm and extend the note.

It was the first time Penske drivers swept those two races in a single weekend since Jeremy Mayfield and Helio Castroneves did it in June 2000.

Before that, it had been done nine previous times, all with Rusty Wallace and a variety of IndyCar drivers.

Trivia break: Who were the three IndyCar drivers who swept weekends along with Wallace?

Trivia Break Answers

1) Jimmie Johnson did it twice, and Bobby Labonte once.
2) Jamie McMurray was 22nd in 2009, but won three races in 2010.
3) Emerson Fittipaldi, Paul Tracy and Al Unser Jr. all finished weekend sweeps with Wallace.

Matt Willis | email

ESPN Staff Writer
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.


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