LONG POND, Pa. – The rain-shortened Pennsylvania 400 was, obviously, a most unusual race.
NASCAR Sprint Cup points leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered transmission failure and his incredible streak of consistency – he completed every lap in 20 straight races this year – comes to an end.
Race-dominant Jimmie Johnson, who rarely makes mistakes, gets loose on the last restart and the ensuing wreck, among other things, takes out Matt Kenseth, the driver who only a week ago lost the points lead.
As a result, a crippled Earnhardt somehow remains the points leader. Go figure.
While you’re at it, figure this: Jeff Gordon, so desperately in need of a victory to have any chance at making the Chase, is the leader when storms rake Pocono yet again.
The bad weather forces an end to the race after 98 of scheduled 160 laps. Improbably, Gordon is the winner.
And just like that … he’s launched from oblivion to No. 2 in the “wildcard” standings, which means that if the Chase started this weekend, Gordon would be in it.
But there are now five races before the Chase begins. To assure his participation, Gordon has work to do.
On the other hand, it would appear Brad Keselowski doesn’t have much to worry about.
The driver of the Penske Racing Dodge finished fourth in the Pennsylvania 400, which moved him from ninth to seventh in points. He’s just one point behind Tony Stewart.
But, like Stewart, Keselowski has three victories this season and therefore is all but assured a place in the Chase.
But let’s go a step further.
I am on record as saying that Keselowski will win the 2012 championship.
That may seem like I’m going out on a limb with defending champion Stewart and five-time titlist Johnson currently tied with Keselowski with three wins this season to date, but I can’t shake the feeling.
Keselowski, of course, tested my fortitude by qualifying 31st for the Pennsylvania 400. This has been an all-too-often scenario for the Penske No. 2 team.
As Keselowski noted, “I didn’t get a very strong qualifying run but that’s kind of been the story of our season.”
But what Keselowski and team lack in qualifying they seem to make up for in competition – as was the case at Pocono.
“The most important thing is race trim and the speed you have there,” he said. “Also it’s the execution that you have out of your team and, certainly, the driver and I’m proud of where we’re at in those categories.”
Pocono is one track on which Keselowski has always felt comfortable. He won there a year ago despite a broken ankle but finished 18th in June.
“For obvious reasons so it’s nice to return to a track where you’ve had success,” he said. “It just makes you feel even that much better about the outlook for the weekend.”
Keselowski explained that returning to a track for the second time means his team “always gets better.”
“I don’t think this weekend will be any exception,” he added prior to the Pennsylvania 400. And he was right.
“You know, we had a decent run coming together the last time we were here with the new pavement,” Keselowski said. “We had some electronics issues that caught us and we just never got a shot to fully recover from that.
“I think you know all things being even and not having those issues we could have had a top-five, top-10 day and I think we’re even more competitive this time around.
“So you know for those reasons I always look forward to coming back to tracks in the summer stretch.”
What impresses me about Keselowski is the depth of talent in the driver and the momentum he’s carried over from last year. He is a force with which to be reckoned this season.
As for his successes this season, Keselowski said, “I’m part of a competitive team. I enjoy going to the race track. It’s a good time in my life.”
With what looks to be a guaranteed spot in the Chase, and a strong position once there, Keselowski’s future continues to look bright.
But he adds, “The only thing I really am concerned about now is winning a race and winning another race and then another race. That’s what drives me before the Chase starts.”
With the 31st qualifying position it might have appeared a good finish would be difficult today, but Keselowski has proven throughout the season that a tough starting position will not keep him down.
He proved it again in the Pennsylvania 400.
His resiliency and his season record make him my favorite for this year’s title.