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.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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