The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will have a new champion in 2013.
Brad Keselowski led a race-high 142 laps on Saturday at Richmond International Raceway, but ultimately faded to a disappointing 17th-place result on a night where he needed to win in order to have any hope of a spot in the Chase.
“We were pretty good at the start and led a lot of laps…But we just weren’t strong enough to really stay up there,” Keselowski said. “We needed clean air to really run well and once we lost that, we just weren’t strong enough.”
Saturday may well have been a microcosm of Keselowski’s season, which has seen him show blazing speed at times but also extended periods of inconsistency as well.
After taking the lead twice for short periods in the opening stages, Keselowski settled in for a longer run up front after passing Jamie McMurray for the point following a restart at Lap 143.
He would repeatedly lose and regain the lead as the race went across the halfway mark, but was still running second with 100 laps to go in the 400-lap event. Then, it seemed his car began to get away from him as he started to slip down the running order.
A run-in with Kevin Harvick caused Keselowski to declare over his team’s radio that he would “use the [expletive] out of the 29 [Harvick]” once he got new tires. But by the time he got those fresh Goodyears during a stop with 60 laps left, he had already lost critical track position.
“That is just the way our cars have been this year,” he said. “They haven’t been good enough and we haven’t executed as well as we needed to. We have work to do.
“At the end of the day, the thing about points is it is the best measuring stick in sports. You know who deserves to be where because the results speak for themselves. We didn’t have enough results to get where we needed to be.”
Keselowski has now become the second defending champion to miss out on the Chase the following season since its inception in 2004. It will be interesting to see how much support he’ll give Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano, who did manage to clinch a Chase berth in Richmond.
For his part, Logano believes that Keselowski will make a return to Victory Lane before the year is out. But he needed to do that on Saturday night, and couldn’t.
“I don’t really have any emotions right now,” Keselowski said. “We weren’t good enough to make it and we didn’t. That is the reality.”
A cold, hard reality.