Brad Keselowski is back into the top 30 in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings. But this time, he needs to remain there.
Brad Keselowski’s first NASCAR Cup Series season as driver/owner at RFK Racing has been anything but smooth. It got off to a nice start, with Keselowski and teammate Chris Buescher each winning a Bluegreen Vacations Duel qualifying race for the Daytona 500 and Keselowski leading the most laps in the Daytona 500 itself.
But to say the least, it has gone downhill since.
Keselowski was only able to finish the Daytona 500 in ninth place, and to rub salt in the wound, the #2 Ford in which he could never win the “Great American Race” with Team Penske won it in Austin Cindric’s first race as his replacement.
Since then, Keselowski is still searching for another top 10 finish, and following a 12th place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, his second best finish in the 13 races that have been contested since the Daytona 500, he and the #6 team were docked 100 points as a result of a violation found in teardown inspection at the NASCAR R&D Center.
The 100-point penalty dropped him to 35th place in the point standings, and with no spectacular results since, he has struggled to climb back into the top 30.
At this point, the 2012 champion needs to win a race to get into the playoffs; he isn’t going to qualify on points. Even without that 100-point penalty, he would only be sitting in 21st place in the standings, which would put him nine positions and 67 points behind where the points cut line for the postseason currently resides.
But a win only counts toward playoff eligibility if a driver sits inside the top 30 in the point standings.
Fortunately, Keselowski has managed to claw his way back into the top 30, passing Spire Motorsports’ Corey LaJoie in this past Sunday night’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (despite a 30th place DNF). LaJoie also failed to finish, and he was scored in 35th.
It’s not a huge development at this point, but it could prove significant if he manages to win, and despite his struggles in 2022, that is still very possible, considering some of the tracks remaining on the regular season schedule.
Of course, then there’s another scenario: he could very well win a race and not get into the playoffs even with a top 30 finish in the regular season point standings.
This would occur if there are more than 16 different regular season race winners. If that scenario were to occur, the tiebreaker among single-race winners to determine who is awarded the remaining playoff spots becomes points, and Keselowski isn’t exactly in an ideal situation there, sitting 106 points behind the lowest of the 11 winners thus far.
He finds himself just two points ahead of LaJoie at this point (183 to 181), so dropping back out again is not completely out of the question. But without the 100-point penalty factored in, he is averaging 20.21 points per race, which is significantly higher than LaJoie’s average of 12.93, so in the long run, he should be alright.
Keselowski has not had a winless season since 2010, and he hasn’t had a winless regular season since 2013, which was the most recent season during which he did not qualify for the playoffs. His 11-year win streak trails only Kyle Busch’s 18-year streak among active drivers. Will he extend it to 12, or will the 2022 season simply be a season of major growing pains for him and his new team?