Brad Keselowski is NASCAR’s hottest driver, but his playoff approach may surprise you

Brad Keselowski celebrates after winning NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 on Monday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Brad Keselowski celebrates after winning NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 on Monday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. AP

Hear Brad Keselowski out for a second: Kissing a row of dirty, driven-on bricks isn’t that bad.

“Pretty darn good for what I can recall,” Keselowski said laughing this week. “Some people say they taste bad, but I didn’t have any problems at all.”

Especially not when that brick-kissing tradition comes after a victory. Keselowski’s smooch came soon after his win in last week’s Brickyard 400, his second consecutive ‘W’ to end the NASCAR Cup Series regular season.

Those back-to-back wins at Darlington and Indianapolis, Keselowski’s only two victories this season, are certainly a shot in the arm to the No. 2 team before these 10-race playoffs begin. But while the former Cup Series champion appreciates those victories, he knows there’s much more work to be done.

“It’s been a good two-week stretch here. We needed that,” he told the Observer this week. “Our summer wasn’t nearly what we had hoped it would be, and so with that in mind, this has been a really welcome stretch for us to enter the playoffs.

“It’s not a guarantee of anything — it’s just 10 extra playoff points than what we had — but it is welcomed and we’ll hopefully be in a better spot in the weeks to come because of it.”

It’s true. Before those two wins, it had been a frustrating and uncharacteristic year for Keselowski. He hasn’t had a winless season since 2010, his first year as a full-time Cup driver. And, yet, this year was shaping up to be another.

Two second-place finishes, at Atlanta and Michigan, were proof that Keselowski’s team was dangerous, but there’s a difference between coming close and actually winning. A major difference.

And the past two weeks, they’ve closed that gap. Near-perfect execution on pit road at Darlington earned the No. 2 team its first victory, and then the same excellence from Keselowski on a late restart at Indy brought home the second.

“Confident’s not the right word — happy is,” Keselowski said. “I’m thrilled to death to have those two race wins, such big races for our sport that I’d never won before.

“It’s been a perfect storm of excellence that we’re really proud of.”

But while that pride is deserved, Keselowski isn’t completely leaning into his momentum as NASCAR’s hottest driver.

Instead, he’s being cautious.

Cautiously optimistic, if you will.

“I don’t know how you quantify it ... and I don’t know if you should quantify it.,” Keselowski said of his momentum. “I think at the end of the day, past success is not a guarantee of future success.

“I want us to go out and earn it these next few weeks and not get overconfident.”

That measured approach, even for a driver as experienced as Keselowski, bodes well for his chances in this year’s playoffs. Currently fourth on the leader board and with favorable tracks approaching in Richmond, Martinsville, and Talladega, there’s a lot to like about the direction of the No. 2 team.

In fact, this late-season surge has made Keselowski one of the favorites to join the Big 3 — Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, and Kevin Harvick — in a rematch of the 2017 championship race at Homestead, Fla.

But again, temper those expectations. Overconfidence can be a killer, as Keselowski knows.

Rather than trying to do too much to keep his momentum going this week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Keselowski is doubling down on his same approach.

And the past two weeks, that’s worked out just fine.

“There’s not a lot I can do that I’m not doing already, which is staying focused and trying to make the most of every opportunity I can,” he said. “That’s really a lot of what this sport — and life — is all about.”