Debris slows Brad Keselowski, costs him win at Pocono

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If things would have gone a bit more his way in five particular races thus far this season, Brad Keselowski could theoretically be running away with the Sprint Cup points lead right now.

But instead of hoped-for wins, Keselowski came up short at those five races, finishing third at Daytona and Phoenix, fourth at Richmond, second last week at Dover and – much to his chagrin – second again in Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway.

Keselowski dominated the Pocono race, leading 95 of the 160 laps, but debris on the grill of his Team Penske Ford late in the race caused his car to start overheating.

“The car was real hot,” Keselowski told TNT. “We had a really fast Ford. Just got a big piece of debris on the grill and I had to do something or it was going to blow up.”

He didn’t want to take a chance that the motor would grenade, so in an effort to suck the debris off the grill, he got behind the lapped car of Danica Patrick.

Unfortunately, Keselowski lost momentum when Patrick slowed unexpectedly, allowing Dale Earnhardt Jr. to motor on to the victory, with Keselowski ultimately winding up in second place.

“I tried to make a move to get behind the 10 (Patrick) and use the air to pull the debris off it,” Keselowski said. “But when she got into the corner, she got loose and I just chased her up there and lost too much momentum.

“I should have just passed her, but I had to do some kind of move. The car wasn’t going to make it. It was already starting to blow up. It was all I could do.

“Dale made a heck of a move to take advantage of it and that’s sometimes just how racing goes.”

But Keselowski can’t be all upset: he jumped three places from eighth to fifth in the Sprint Cup rankings after Sunday’s race at the 2.5-mile so-called Tricky Triangle at Pocono.

Keselowski hopes to avenge his shortcomings in those five races this coming weekend on his home track at Michigan International Speedway.

He’s never won a Cup event on MIS’s high speed two-mile oval. In fact, his results there have been less than inspiring: just two top-five finishes in nine starts there.

But Keselowski hopes to turn that trend around next Sunday.

“We’re hitting the summer stretch with a lot of momentum and I’m really proud of my team,” he said. “I just wish I would have executed a little better (Sunday) and got the win.

“I should have just ran it and seen if it would have blown up. I don’t think it would have made it – maybe it would have – but I didn’t want to do that to Doug Yates’ engine shop. It would have been unfair to them.

“We had a real good car, Dale and I were pretty equal, and he made the right move at the end.”

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.