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.