Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 7 – Brad Keselowski’s six wins, but falls short of Championship Round

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Keselowski after his sixth win of the year, at Talladega. Photo: Getty Images

MotorSportsTalk will be counting down the top 20 stories of the 2014 NASCAR season over the month of December.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

Today, we’re at No. 7 —Brad Keselowski rebounds with six wins in 2014, is in the crosshairs, then misses the Championship 4 finale…

In 2012, he made waves as a beer-guzzling, all-American first-time champion who delivered Roger Penske his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship (two years after also providing Penske his first NASCAR title overall, in the Nationwide Series).

A year later, Keselowski fell into the kind of slump that usually affects the previous season’s runner-up. The wins dropped from five to one, and Keselowski missed the Chase altogether, ending 14th in the standings.

In 2014, “Bad Brad” was back – with the term “bad” used as both an endearing, dominating and damning term at times this season, depending on the race.

There was an early season run of success culminating with a win at Las Vegas to get the season going. Then after the opening three races, Keselowski fell into a nine-race slump where he posted only one top-five.

Wins at Kentucky and Loudon followed in the summer. The former saw him cut his hand on a champagne bottle; the latter saw him celebrate with a lobster in victory lane.

A win at Richmond was one of the year’s most dominant, with 383 of 400 laps led.

A win a week later at Chicagoland firmly established him as the title favorite, thanks to one of the passing moves of the year with a dart through the middle of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson.

And then… the wheels fell off.

While the opening Challenger round was fine for Brad K and the 2 crew, with a win, a seventh and a second, poor finishes at both Kansas (36th) and Martinsville (31st) set him back early in each of the Contender and Eliminator rounds.

Those two poor results, of course, set the stage for the two most discussed moments in the Chase prior to the Chase finale itself.

Keselowski’s post-race dustup with Matt Kenseth at Charlotte and further skirmish with Jeff Gordon at Texas – the latter instigated as much by Harvick as the two protagonists and their respective crews – cast a cloud over what had been a championship-worthy season prior to that point.

In-between those two of course was an emotional and clutch win at Talladega – his sixth of the year – that vaulted him into the Eliminator Round of the championship chase. But when consistency was needed in the Chase, Keselowski was often a boom-or-bust prospect.

Keselowski never backed down in his frank assessments of how he would race this year. His team owner, Penske, backed him at every opportunity.

There was nothing wrong in either of their eyes with how Brad raced – but perhaps the moments where emotions and drama overtook the on-track result were the telling elements that defined his season more than the successes themselves.

In the end, six wins, 17 top-fives, 20 top-10s, five pole positions and 1,540 laps led were stats worthy of a title.

But Keselowski came up short both of the title and having a chance at it in Homestead. That proved an unfortunate ending to what was a needed bounce back season for the driver of the Miller Lite Ford.

Eli Tomac’s near-perfect season ended perfectly

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From the start, Eli Tomac wanted to go into the season-ending race at Ironman Raceway with the 2020 red plate already in his possession. That final race has been know to devolve into muddy conditions and it is best not to leave things to chance.

For a rider with an almost perfect record of overall podium finishes, one would not have thought there would be much drama at the end of Round 11 at Budds Creek, but it took until the last lap of the final moto for Tomac to achieve his goal.

One reason was that Tomac’s near-perfect season was not so perfect. From the very beginning at Hangtown, Tomac struggled with poor starts to his events. Getting a bad jump out of the gate and finishing fourth in Moto 1 that weekend was not the auspicious beginning he wanted in search of his third consecutive 450 outdoor championship.

The hallmark of Tomac’s season has been overcoming bad starts. He rode through the field at Hangtown and nearly stood on the podium. Then he won Moto 2 and finished second overall. It was his first of nine consecutive overall podiums. Tomac came back the following week for a perfect sweep at Pala.

In Round 3, Tomac once again got off to a bad start. He finished fifth in Moto 1 at Thunder Valley – and then won Moto 2 in a duplication of his opening round.

In Round 5, Tomac had his worst performance until that time. He finished seventh in Moto 1. Nearly halfway through the season, a pattern was firmly established with his Moto 2 win.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

One should recall that the hallmark of Tomac’s season was strong finishes. Four the next four weeks Tomac failed to podium only one time in a moto. On that occasion, he would stumble in Moto 2 at Spring Creek in Round 8 before scoring his second perfect race at Washougal.

And that is where it got interesting. Tomac left Washougal with a 50-point advantage over Marvin Musquin. It was just the scenario Tomac had seesawed his way through the season to achieve. But it was too good to be true.

In most of his previous bad performances, there was an extenuating circumstance for Tomac’s bad start: a fall or an off course excursion. This time, he simply rode an uninspired race and finished seventh again to match his worst single moto performance. He could not fully rebound in Moto 2 and finished third.

For the first time in 2019, Tomac failed to stand on the overall podium in fourth. Worse still, he lost 10 points to Musquin and no longer had his one-race cushion.

But this is a season of recovery for Tomac. At Budds Creek last week it was reported that Tomac’s lackluster performance in Washington was due to his overdoing his chores on his Colorado ranch. Rested and restored, Tomac scored his third perfect race with Moto 1 & 2 wins. And this time, he looked sharper than he had in any previous race.

Tomac did all the could do by winning both motos, but in the closing laps at Budds Creek he needed a little help to clinch the title. As it turned out, Tomac needed the perfect performance to clinch his third consecutive championship.

In Moto 1, he narrowly edged Ken Roczen and Musquin, to give the three championship contenders a sweep of the top three spots; that was not enough to regain his cushion.

Roczen was close enough to force Tomac into The Ironman needing to score points to permanently affix the red plate on his Kawasaki in 2020, but just as Tomac’s season has been marked by second half improvements, Roczen’s has been marred by a lack of performance in the second motos.

Musquin passed Roczen late in Moto 2 last week and could have extended the drama one more week if he could have caught second-place Jason Anderson. Musquin could not erase an 11-second deficit to the runner-up and now Tomac’s almost perfect season has a distinctly perfect feel to it.

Vanessa O’Brien, Kawasaki USA

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