End of the Chase trail for Brad Keselowski?

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The phrase “cruel twist of fate” is a well-worn cliche. But how else to explain what befell Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski during last night’s Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway?

Searching for what could have been a season-saving victory, Keselowski was running 1-2 with Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano as the race entered its final stages.

But on Lap 244 came the aforementioned cruel twist, as Keselowski radioed his team and told them he thought he had lost a cylinder.

With their Chase for the Sprint Cup hopes on the line, the No. 2 Penske team opted to keep Keselowski on the track for as long as possible. Then, on Lap 307, his engine finally expired and the champ was left to ponder a devastating turn for his team.

“What can you do?,” said Keselowski, who fell to 15th in the championship and now sits 28 points outside the Top 10 going into the final regular season race of the year this coming Saturday at Richmond International Raceway.

“You can sit here and be mad and stomp your feet and be a jerk about it, but it just broke. That’s racing. It’s kind of been the story of our year.”

Indeed, several factors have put Keselowski in this hole that may now be too deep for him to climb out of.

A rear-end housing infraction at Texas cost him 25 points, while a ride height issue at Dover took away six more points. But perhaps more damaging was an extended stretch of inconsistency that occurred following his hot start to the year (four Top-5s and seven Top-10s in the first eight races).

From the Richmond spring race in April to the Brickyard 400 in July – that’s a 12-race period – Keselowski was only able to ring up two Top-10 results (fifth at Dover, fourth at New Hampshire). Additionally, during that run, there were seven races that saw him finish outside the Top-20.

And now, the last two weeks, which have seen sizable setbacks – the engine failure at Atlanta, and the involvement in a late-race crash one weekend ago at Bristol Motor Speedway.

All of that has added up to Keselowski needing to win at Richmond and also getting a lot of help in order to somehow make the post-season.

“We don’t dictate our own fate, which is never good,” Keselowski said of his Richmond outlook. “Obviously, we have the speed and performance to get there, but we haven’t put together the execution or the luck.”

“…We ran up front and we continue to show that we at least have the pieces of what it takes every week to be a title threat and to be in the Chase, but we just haven’t put together all those pieces every week and that’s what it takes.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t have what it takes – we just don’t have the consistency in putting all those pieces together this year. I know that all those pieces could come together tomorrow. Unfortunately, it didn’t come together today and that’s what matters the most.”

IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.