Can Keselowski rise again at Phoenix?

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
9:12
AM ET

AP Photo/Larry PapkeBrad Keselowski has been setting career bests the entire season. Can he do it again at Phoenix?
On the surface, the matchup between Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s race at Phoenix looks like a mismatch.

In 18 starts at Phoenix, Johnson has four wins, three coming in Chase races, 15 top-10 finishes and a 5.3 average finish. That average finish is the best in track history among drivers with at least 10 starts.

Keselowski, on the other hand, has a single top-10 finish in six career starts at the raceway, a fifth-place finish earlier this year. His 22.2 average finish at the track is his fifth-worst mark at any track on the Sprint Cup Series schedule.

All of a sudden, Keselowski’s seven-point deficit seems a lot more daunting.

But these numbers don’t tell the whole story.

For the entire 2012 season, especially in the Chase, Keselowski has routinely been besting his career marks at tracks. Some highlights include:

• Chicago: entering the Chase opener, Keselowski had an 18.3 average finish at the track, but he won the race to put himself in the title picture.

• Dover: at a track where he had never previous finished better than 12th, Keselowski picked up his second win in three races to move into the points lead.

• Martinsville: Keselowski had never finished better than ninth at the “Paper Clip,” a track where Johnson has had tremendous success, but Keselowski finished sixth to minimize the damage from Johnson’s win.

• Texas: entering with a 25.3 average finish at the track, Keselowski finished second, bettering his previous career-best of 14th to stay just seven points behind Johnson.

Keselowski appears primed to add another turnaround performance to his résumé at Phoenix this weekend. In his first five races at the track, he averaged worse than a 25th-place finish. Earlier this year, he was fifth.

He also showed the ability to pass good cars in that race, something he didn’t do in his first five races there. He made 38 quality passes (green-flag passes of cars running in the top 15) in that race. In his first five Phoenix starts, he averaged fewer than 15 a race.

However, Keselowski does face a strong challenge from the man in front of him in points. Despite finishing fourth at Phoenix earlier this season, Johnson led the field in several key categories, showing his strength at the track.

Johnson will be looking for his fifth career Phoenix win. No other driver in Sprint Cup Series history has ever won there more than twice. He’ll also be going for a 23rd career Chase race win, which would be a dozen more than any other driver.
Matt Willis has been a studio researcher at ESPN since 2006, working on "NASCAR Now" and "SportsCenter," among other shows. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2006 with a degree in journalism. While there, he worked on ICTV, on shows such as "Ya Think You Know Sports?" and "Sports Final." He also was a member of the IC Comedy Club and figures about half of the jokes he makes in his column are actually funny.

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