NASCAR: Has a challenger to Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin emerged?

Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, NASCAR (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Brad Keselowski had a flawless performance in Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Richmond Raceway, leading 192 laps en route to the victory.

The win was Brad Keselowski’s fourth of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series campaign, and it was his third at a track where the cars use the low-downforce 750-horsepower package.

Coming into Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, Keselowski spoke with the media and noted that the team told him his car was the same car he drove at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He won that race and led a race-high 184 of the 301 laps.

As a result, he had high expectations coming into Richmond Raceway in terms of leading a lot of the 400 laps and securing win number four.

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He called his shot.

After the race, Keselowski did not do any burnouts, signaling that he and crew chief Jeremy Bullins want to use this #2 Ford in the future, likely at Phoenix Raceway for the season finale.

There is no doubt that the #2 Ford has been one of the best cars at short tracks, and if Keselowski qualifies for the Championship 4, there is a very good chance that he will win his second Cup Series championship in this car.

First of all, Phoenix Raceway is slated to use the low-downforce, 750-horsepower package. Keselowski has three wins at tracks that have used that package this season.

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, the two drivers who have dominated the 2020 season and have combined to win 14 of the 28 races that have been contested thus far, have just one win apiece using that package this year.

Secondly, the championship race is set to feature the exact same Goodyear tire that was used in the races at Richmond Raceway and at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It has a great falloff to which Keselowski has been able to adapt, and that led to him having a great car on the long runs and winning both of those races.

Keselowski has never won at Phoenix Raceway in a Cup car, and every champion since the Championship 4 was introduced in 2014 has won the season finale. His best finish at the four-turn, 1.022-mile (1.645-kilometer) oval in Avondale, Arizona came in the 2018 penultimate race of the year when he finished in second place. But this package could play to his advantage.

Obviously, Keselowski has to make it to the Championship 4 first, and that is still almost two months away. But two races into the playoffs, he is looking good with 35 playoff points, third most among all drivers.

Additionally, the remaining playoff schedule favors him. Take a look at the round of 12. At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he has finished no lower than seventh place in the last 10 races, and he has won three of those 10 races.

At Talladega Superspeedway, he has won five times. At the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, he has led laps and has had good cars. He finished in fifth place there last year and was looking at a top 10 finish in 2018 before locking up his brakes in turn one late.

Now take a look at the round of 8. At Kansas Speedway, he has led laps in five of the last six races, and he won there last May. While he has never won at Texas Motor Speedway, he has been able to run up front, lead a lot of laps and secure solid finishes there as well.

As for Martinsville Speedway, he has been very consistent, with top five finishes in eight of the last nine races there and two wins during that span. Those two wins came in 2017 with a low downforce package and in 2019 with a high downforce package.

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While he is already locked into the round of 12 thanks to his win at Richmond Raceway, Keselowski will be looking to add more playoff points to his total at Bristol Motor Speedway in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race, the final race of the round of 16, this Saturday, September 19. NBC Sports Network is set to broadcast this race live beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET.