Brad Keselowski ready to prove 2012 championship was not a fluke

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Brad Keselowski had a memorable season in 2012 and one he’d just as soon forget in 2013.

Such is the unpredictable nature of NASCAR Sprint Cup racing from one season to the next. While he was the talk of the sport after winning the Cup championship in 2012, after a disappointing 2013, Keselowski is bound and determined not to be perpetually known as a one-hit wonder going forward.

As in one-time champion – a.k.a. one and done.

“Not winning the championship is disappointing,” Keselowski said Wednesday during the third day of the four-day NASCAR Media Tour. “That’s my goal, I want to win the championship, I want to win races. If you’re looking at it in a whole season sense, to not win a championship is absolutely disappointing and it should be. And I don’t want anyone working on my team that’s not disappointed when you don’t win a championship.”

Keselowski and Team Penske have made numerous changes to bounce back from 2013 to a more successful 2014. They’ve done a wholesale facelift of the pit crew (only two members remain from 2012’s unit), added an “athletic director” to monitor the workouts of crew members, and have done considerable realignment within the mechanical department to minimize what were far too many broken parts and strategy missteps last season.

“You have to compare your success to your failures and try to understand the difference,” Keselowski said. “There wasn’t one (failure last season), there was a series across the board, and it’s our job to resurrect that and I think the approach has been so to do that.”

The differences between his championship season of 2012 and failing to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2013 are stark.

In bringing Penske his first Cup championship in three decades of trying in 2012, Keselowski won five races, had 13 top five and 23 top 10 finishes in the 36-race schedule.

In 2013, however, he won just one race (and that didn’t come until the 31st event of the season, at Charlotte), had only nine top five and 16 top 10 showings. He also failed to make the Chase and defend his previous year’s title, eventually winding up as the highest finishing driver that didn’t make the Chase (14th place).

Still, that was little consolation to the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford.

“We had situations out of our control that we didn’t execute on,” Keselowski said. “It seemed like at any given point of the year, we were this close, but not there. We had too many mechanical failures, we certainly addressed those. … We had too many issues on pit road and I had too many issues behind the wheel. If we (improve) any one of them, we feel we’re right where we need to be a championship contender.”

Team owner Roger Penske concurs.

“We’ve here to win the championship,” Penske said. “We’ve got some work to do. The competition has never been tougher. Our goal is to be at that head table in Las Vegas in 2014 (at the NASCAR Awards Banquet).

“(Last season was) a big disappointment. We knew we were better than we showed. We didn’t have the reliability with the pit crew, the car and the engine. To me, I think it’s a learning curve, I think it makes (Keselowski) better because he has to come back now and show people it wasn’t just a fluke in 2012.”

With Keselowski and Joey Logano (who finished eighth in the Chase last season when Keselowski faltered) as the team’s two representatives in the Sprint Cup Series and Ryan Blaney running a part-time schedule in the Nationwide Series, youth is definitely being served at Team Penske this season.

“As I look at 2014, consistency and continuity are key from the standpoint of our team,” Penske said. “And when I think of our drivers, I think of youth. You take our two Cup drivers and then you put Ryan Blaney in there and (the average age is) 24 years old. These drivers have the ability to win, they were winners in their series in 2013 and we expect a lot in 2014.”

And right at the top of the list of expecting a lot – especially from himself – is Keselowski.

“Last year, I feel like I ran some of the best races of my life, and in a lot of ways I was a better driver than I was in 2012,” Keselowski said. “But this is not an individual sport. You can very easily argue that the team side carried me for part of 2012, and vice-versa in 2013. It’s a team sport and it’s a collective evolving. It was our responsibility to get it done and we didn’t. But that doesn’t mean we don’t think we can. I think we can.

“It’s a new opportunity. We’re ready to get going here in 2014 and I do think we have a lot of continuity. We think we’re where we need to be to run for another championship. I feel like we’re reloaded.”

Formula 1: Ricciardo nurses power unit trouble to win in Monaco

Photo: Getty Images
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Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo had dominated the Monaco Grand Prix weekend heading into Sunday, topping every practice session and laying down a lap-record 1:10.810 to secure the pole.

The race itself was also going according to plan for Ricciardo, as he got the jump off Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel on the start to lead into Sainte Devote.

However, on Lap 28, after the leaders all made their lone pit stops of the race, Ricciardo’s day nearly came unglued when he reported a loss of power on his RB14.

With the Red Bull team monitoring the issue, Vettel was able to close back in on Ricciardo and began stalking him for the lead.

However, Ricciardo brilliantly utilized a combination of late-braking and sustained cornering speed to keep Vettel at bay and secure his first victory at the Monaco Grand Prix.

The victory, Ricciardo’s second of the 2018 Formula 1 season, serves as sweet redemption after a pit stop error cost him a possible victory in 2016, when he settled for second behind Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton.

Vettel, meanwhile, saw his challenge hampered after a Lap 72 Virtual Safety Car for a crash between Sauber’s Charles Leclerc and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley – Leclerc suffered brake failure on the run up to the Nouvelle Chicane, and collected Hartley in the process.

When the VSC ended, Vettel could not get his Pirellis back up to temperature, and Ricciardo pulled away in the final laps.

While Vettel ended up second, Hamilton rounded out the podium in third, despite struggling with a graining issue on his Pirelli ultrasofts in the second half of the race. Hamilton held off Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who also fended off Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas for fourth – the trio finished up third (Hamilton), fourth (Raikkonen), and fifth (Bottas).

Esteban Ocon was sixth for Force India, with Pierre Gasly coming home a strong seventh for Toro Rosso. Nico Hulkenberg ended up eighth for Renault, while Max Verstappen came home ninth after starting last – Verstappen ran long on his first stint before switching to hypersofts on Lap 48. He ran the hypers all the way to the end to finish ninth.

Carlos Sainz Jr. was the final points finisher, coming home tenth for Renault.

Results are below.

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