RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Brad Keselowski entered NASCAR’s playoffs certain he has as good a chance at the Cup championship as favorites Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.
He even predicted he’d win at Richmond Raceway.
His confidence was correct as Keselowski indeed won Saturday night at Richmond, the second playoff race, and advanced into the second next round.
Harvick, the title favorite, won last week’s opener to earn the automatic berth into the second round. Hamlin, derailed at his home track of Richmond by a speeding penalty, finished 12th but still advanced into the next round based on points.
Keselowski was the only driver able to run with Harvick and Hamlin when racing resumed in May following a pause for the pandemic. He won three races, earned a contract extension at Team Penske and steadfastly maintained he should not be discounted in the title race.
He didn’t do a celebratory burnout after making good on his Richmond prediction because that specific No. 2 Ford has now won twice this year and Keselowski wants it intact for the championship-deciding finale at Phoenix.
“I don’t want to look too far ahead, the next round is going to be really difficult, but still I am really pumped about this performance,” Keselowski said. “We’ve got to get (to the finale). The last few years I haven’t made it all the way. But if we can get to Phoenix, we’re going to be really good.”
Keselowski led a race-high 192 of the 400 laps and gave Team Penske a sweep of the day – Will Power won for the IndyCar arm of the organization earlier Saturday.
Harvick, Hamlin and Keselowski are the only drivers locked into the next round of the playoffs.
Headed into next Saturday night’s elimination race at Bristol Motor Speedway, William Byron, Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney are below the cutoff line.
Martin Truex Jr. finished second at Richmond, followed by Keselowski teammate Joey Logano and Austin Dillon, who has opened the playoffs with back-to-back top-five finishes for the first time in his career. Harvick finished seventh.
Keselowski passed Dillon for the lead with 48 laps remaining to seal the win in a race that had only three caution periods, all scheduled by NASCAR.