JOLIET, Ill. – Ever since he realized he would not make the Chase for the Sprint Cup last season, Brad Keselowski has been on a mission.
Keselowski wants to prove that 2013 was the real fluke season for him, not 2012 when he won the Sprint Cup championship.
“Definitely, sure,” Keselowski said. “I want another championship. It’s important to me personally. I think we’re in a strong position to make it happen but it’s not a guarantee.
“We’re going to be in this position for years to come. I don’t want to waste the opportunity. On the other side, I’m realistic you can’t win (championships) every year. Sports are cyclical, but this year feels like we’re on the upside of the cycle, I want to hit it hard and make it count.”
And the way Keselowski sees it, he wants to turn a fluke season into seasons of the future.
“To me, it would be an important mark in my career to date (to win another championship),” he said. “I think it would really set the tone to make a run for multiple championships over the next few years, and also personally validate a few of my own challenges and life goals that I want to make up to and live up to.”
That Keselowski was so good in 2012, winning five races and rolling to his and team owner Roger Penske’s first respective Sprint Cup titles, it’s still confounding that 2013 played out the way it did.
Keselowski ultimately became the second Cup champion in recent history to win a championship one season and then failed to make the Chase the next campaign. Tony Stewart was the first to do it, winning in 2005 and missing the Chase in 2006.
So how did he turn things around from last season’s disappointment of not making the Chase to steamrolling into this year’s playoff with a series-high four wins, as well as earning the No. 1 seed heading into this weekend’s Chase kickoff?
Reporters that clustered around Keselowski asked about the change from 2013 to 2014 may have been a little surprised at the simplicity of the changes.
“I don’t know if ‘surprised’ is the right word,” Keselowski said. “I’m happy for it. I think we all knew that’s what we were capable of, and it leads with the execution.”
At the same time, last year’s shortcomings didn’t require complete overhaul, but rather just to tweak certain areas.
“A lot of work from Ford would be the first thing, and a lot of work on the pit crew, and probably a little bit better dialogue between Paul Wolfe and I,” Keselowski said. “Really, just those three things. It wasn’t anything else.
“There’s no difference in the determination, just the confidence behind it, for obvious reasons having won races. The difference between our group now and year’s past when we entered the Chase, we have four wins, where before we had three wins entering the Chase. Plus, I’d say three of our four wins came in dominating form, which is a huge morale booster and, more importantly, a huge confidence booster.”
As determined and serious-minded as he is to sail through the Chase and earn his second championship in three seasons, Keselowski still has a bit of levity in him.
When asked about whether the relationship with crew chief Paul Wolfe has changed from 2012 to this season, Keselowski smiled when he answered.
“(Wolfe’s) got an eight-month old baby now,” Keselowski said. “I’ve seen that side of him evolve, which I think is great. I’d say having me as a driver probably prepared him for having a baby, a huge test of patience.”
Follow me @JerryBonkowski