Brad Keselowski to make 500th Cup career start at Gateway

Competing in his 14th full-time season in the NASCAR Cup Series, Brad Keselowski is set to achieve a milestone start. By competing in this weekend’s event at World Wide Technology Raceway, the driver/owner of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing Ford Mustang will make his 500th career start in NASCAR’s premier series.

A second-generation racer and native of Rochester Hills, Michigan, Keselowski made his inaugural presence in NASCAR’s premier series at Texas Motor Speedway in November 2008. By then, he was competing in the Xfinity Series on a full-time basis for JR Motorsports and had accumulated two victories in the season while battling for the series’ championship. Driving the No. 25 Chevrolet Impala for Hendrick Motorsports, Keselowski started 37th and finished 19th in his Cup debut. He returned to compete in the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he finished 23rd after starting 31st.

The following season, Keselowski, who remained at JRM as a full-time competitor in the Xfinity circuit, spent the majority of the season splitting between the No. 25 HMS Chevrolet Impala and the No. 09 Phoenix Raceway Chevrolet Impala. After finishing outside the top 20 in his first two Cup starts of the season with HMS, he then made his first start with Phoenix Racing at Talladega Superspeedway in April. It was there where Keselowski achieved an upset by winning his first Cup career race after making contact with Carl Edwards on the final lap, where a late blocking move from Edwards to stall Keselowski’s run through the frontstretch sent Edwards’ No. 99 Ford sideways, airborne and into the catchfence while upside-down after getting hit by Ryan Newman. Keselowski’s Talladega victory occurred in his fifth career start in NASCAR’s premier series and it was also the first for Phoenix Raceway. He then backed up his Talladega victory by finishing seventh at Darlington Raceway with HMS in May and sixth at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with Phoenix in June. During his next seven scheduled Cup starts between HMS and Phoenix, Keselowski’s best result was eighth at Talladega in November. He then competed in the final three scheduled events of the season in the No. 12 Dodge Charger for Team Penske, where his best result was 25th at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.

In 2010, Keselowski joined forces with Team Penske in both the Xfinity and Cup Series circuits, where he replaced David Stremme to drive the No. 12 Dodge in the Cup circuit. While Keselowski’s campaign in the Xfinity circuit was a success by winning the series championship and gifting team owner Roger Penske his first NASCAR championship, the Cup circuit was a difficult season for the Michigan native, who commenced the season by finishing 36th in his Daytona 500 debut. Three races later at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March, he was poised for a top-six run until he was intentionally turned, sent airborne and hit the frontstretch outside wall roof-first by Edwards with three laps remaining. The incident occurred after Keselowski had hit and wrecked Edwards on Lap 41, which prompted NASCAR to park Edwards for the remainder of the event. Despite rallying to finish in the top 15 six times for the remaining 22 of 26 regular-season events, he did not accumulate enough points or results towards the front to make the 2010 Cup Playoffs. Keselowski went on to achieve his first Cup career pole at New Hampshire in September followed by back-to-back 10th-place runs at Talladega and Texas Motor Speedway between October and November. With a 13th-place result at Homestead, he concluded his first full-time Cup season in 25th place in the final standings and with an average-finishing result of 22.4.

In April 2010, Keselowski was named the driver of Team Penske’s iconic No. 2 Dodge while teammate Kurt Busch, who piloted the No. 2 car since 2006, moved over to Penske’s No. 22 Dodge entry for the 2011 Cup season. Commencing the season with a 29th-place result in the 53rd running of the Daytona 500 after being eliminated in a late wreck, Keselowski finished no higher than 15th during the first nine events of the season. Despite capitalizing on a late strategic call to finish third at Darlington in May, he then finished 13th and 19th during his next two scheduled starts. Then at Kansas Speedway in June, he executed on another pit strategic call by leading the final nine laps and beating his mentor Dale Earnhardt Jr. by nearly three seconds while on a low tank of fuel to achieve his second Cup career victory and snap a 75-race winless drought. After recording three top-10 results during his next seven starts, he then achieved his second victory of the season at Pocono Raceway in August following a late duel against Kyle Busch. The victory occurred after Keselowski rallied from a harrowing accident during a test session at Road Atlanta, which left the driver with a broken left ankle and back pain. Despite his injuries, Keselowski’s Pocono victory ignited a hot streak that would see the driver of the No. 2 Dodge finish second and third during his next two starts before grabbing his unprecedented third victory of the season at Bristol Motor Speedway in August. After finishing sixth during the following weekend at Atlanta in September, Keselowski solidified his spot to qualify for the 2011 Cup Playoffs. With four top-five results recorded during the first six Playoff events, he ran as high as third place in the standings. Four consecutive results outside of the top 15, however, dropped Keselowski to fifth place in the final standings. Overall, the 2011 season delivered great success for Keselowski and the No. 2 Team Penske Dodge team on the strength of three victories, 10 top-five results, 14 top-10 results, 298 laps led and an average-finishing result of 14.8.

The 2012 season was a career year for Keselowski, who rallied from being involved in a late multi-car wreck during the 54th running of the Daytona 500 to grab his first victory of the season at Bristol in March. He went on to win at Talladega in April and at Kentucky Speedway in June while racking 10 top-five runs and 15 top-10 results during the 26-race regular-season stretch before making his second consecutive appearance in the Playoffs. By then, he surpassed 100 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series. At the start of the Playoffs, Keselowski prevailed in a late battle against five-time champion Jimmie Johnson to win the Playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway in September. Two races later, Keselowski reaffirmed his bid for the title by prevailing in a late fuel strategic call to win at Dover Motor Speedway. By then, he was leading the series standings for the first time in his career. Despite finishing no worse than 11th during the following five Playoffs events, which included a runner-up result at Texas Motor Speedway in November, Johnson managed to gain ground and assume the points lead with back-to-back victories at Martinsville and Texas between October and November. Then during the penultimate event of the season at Phoenix Raceway, Keselowski capitalized on a late incident that involved Johnson and dodged two multi-car wrecks in the closing laps to finish sixth and reassume the points lead by 20 points entering the finale at Homestead. At Homestead, Keselowski capitalized on another late misfortune impacting Johnson’s title run due to a rear gear failure to finish 15th and clinch the first NASCAR Cup Series championship for himself and for Team Penske. With the accomplishment, Keselowski joined Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon as the only competitors to win a Cup title within the first three seasons of full-time competition. He also recorded the final championship for the Dodge nameplate, which was set to depart NASCAR following the 2012 season. In total, Keselowski capped off his championship season with five victories, 13 top-five results, 23 top-10 results, 735 laps led and  a career-best average-finishing result of 10.1.

Piloting a Ford Fusion while remaining in the No. 2 entry in his bid to defend his series title, Keselowski commenced the 2013 season with four consecutive top-four finishes. Despite earning 11 top-10 results throughout the 26 regular-season stretch, including a strong runner-up result at Watkins Glen International in August, he endured a series of inconsistent runs in the spring and summer periods, including a 25-point dock in points due to a rear-housing infraction at Texas in April, that left him and the No. 2 team outside of the Playoff cutline in September. With his bid to defend the title evaporated, he proceeded to finish in the top 10 five times during the Playoffs. This included achieving his first elusive victory of the season at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October. With a total of one victory, one pole, nine top-five results, 16 top-10 results, 476 laps led and an average-finishing result of 14.9 throughout the 2013 season, Keselowski settled in 14th place in the final standings.

After finishing in second place in the Clash at Daytona International Speedway in February, Keselowski rolled out of the gate with three consecutive top-three runs to commence the 2014 Cup season. This included his first victory of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March after overtaking Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the final lap when Earnhardt Jr. ran out of fuel. He went on to win at Kentucky and New Hampshire in July before capping off the regular-season stretch with a win at Richmond Raceway, which marked the 400th motorsports victory all-time for Team Penske. With four regular-season victories, Keselowski earned the top seed to the newly formatted Playoffs. He then commenced the Playoffs by winning at Chicagoland and earning a one-way transfer from the Round of 16 to 12. During the Round of 12, he was involved in a late wreck at Kansas due to a blown right-front tire and controversial run-ins involving Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart at Charlotte. On the verge of being eliminated early from title contention, Keselowski responded back with vengeance by winning at Talladega in October and transferring to the Round of 8. Keselowski’s late misfortunes, however, continued, starting at Martinsville, where he ignited a late multi-car accident amid a stack-up due to a mechanical issue. This was then followed by another controversial run-in at Texas, where he ran into the side of Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet on a late restart that knocked Gordon out of contention for the win and led to a brawl on pit road following the race. Despite finishing fourth during the final Round of 8 event at Phoenix, Keselowski was eliminated from title contention. Nonetheless, he capped off the season with a third-place run at Homestead before settling in fifth place in the final standings. Despite falling short of winning his second Cup title, Keselowski concluded the season with multiple career highs in victories (six), poles (five), top fives (17) and laps led (1,540). 

Poised to make another run for his second title, the 2015 Cup season produced a single victory for Keselowski and the No. 2 team, which occurred at Auto Club Speedway in March following a last lap pass on Kurt Busch. Despite making his fourth career appearance in the Playoffs and transferring all the way from the Round of 16 to 8, he fell short of making the Championship 4 finale and settled in seventh place in the final standings on the strength of nine top-five results, a career-high 25 top-10 results and an average-finishing result of 11.1. During the following two Cup seasons, he made the Playoffs and accumulated a total of seven victories, four poles, 25 top-five results, 47 top-10 results and average results within 11th place. While he ended up in 12th place in the 2016 standings after being eliminated following the Round of 12, he transferred all the way to the Championship 4 finale in 2017, where he ended up in fourth place in the final standings. By then, he surpassed 300 Cup career starts.

In 2018, Keselowski won the Clash at Daytona in February before enduring a winless stretch during the first 24 regular-season events. His first elusive victory then occurred in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in September followed by another crown-jewel event, which was the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which solidified his spot to make the 2018 Cup Playoffs. The momentum did not stop there for Keselowski and the No. 2 team as they racked up a third consecutive victory at Las Vegas to commence the Playoffs and deliver the 500th motorsports victory for Team Penske. Keselowski’s title hopes, however, came to an end following the Round of 12 as he went on to finish in eighth place in the final standings.

For the 2019 season, it only took the first two races of the season for Keselowski to record a victory, which occurred at Atlanta in February as he recorded the first Cup victory for the Ford Mustang brand. Backing up his Atlanta victory with wins at Martinsville in March and at Kansas in May enabled the Michigan native to make the Playoffs for the eighth time in his career. Despite transferring from the Round of 16 to 12 on the strength of three consecutive top-five results, he missed the cutline to the Round of 8 by a mere margin after finishing no higher than 11th during the Round of 12. With just two top-10 results during the final four events, Keselowski concluded the 2019 Cup season in eighth place in the final standings for a second consecutive year.

Keselowski’s first victory of the 2020 Cup season occurred in the seventh event of the season and during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May following an overtime shootout. Two races later, he achieved another victory to the season at Bristol Motor Speedway in June after dodging a late incident involving teammate Joey Logano and Chase Elliott. He went on to win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July before entering the 2020 Cup Playoffs, which marked his ninth trip to NASCAR’s postseason battle for the title. A dominant victory at Richmond in September enabled Keselowski and the No. 2 team to transfer from the Round of 16 to 12. He then achieved three consecutive top-six runs during the Round of 8 to grab a spot to the Championship 4 finale for the second time in his career. During the finale at Phoenix Raceway in November, he finished in second place behind title rival Elliott both on the track and in the final standings. By then, Keselowski concluded the season with 24 top-10 results, which marked his seventh time concluding a season with 20+ top-10 results along with four victories, 13 top-five results, 952 laps led and tying his career-best average-finishing result with 10.1. He had also surpassed 400 Cup career starts.

In 2021, which marked his 15th season driving for Team Penske, Keselowski commenced the season on a fiery note after being involved in a final lap multi-car wreck with teammate Logano on the final lap of the 63rd running of the Daytona 500 while bidding for the win. Nine races later, he achieved his lone victory of the season at Talladega in April after overtaking Matt DiBenedetto on the final lap. With a total of 10 top-10 results throughout the regular-season stretch, including his victory at Talladega, Keselowski achieved a spot in the Cup Playoffs for the 10th time in his career. His bid for a second title, however, came to an end following the Round of 8, but seven results in the top 10 were enough for Keselowski to cap off the season in sixth place in the final standings.

Following 15 memorable seasons at Team Penske, Keselowski embarked on a new phase to his racing career in 2022 by joining Roush Fenway Racing as the driver of the No. 6 Ford Mustang and co-owner of the organization, which was rebranded to Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. He commenced the season with early momentum after winning the first of two Bluegreen Vacation Duels at Daytona in February, which allowed him to start in third place for the 64th running of the Daytona 500. During the 500, he led a race-high 67 laps and was in position of winning the event during a two-lap shootout until he got shuffled back to ninth place in the final running order. Four races later, where he finished no higher than 12th on the track, Keselowski and the No. 6 RFK Ford team were slapped with an L2-level penalty and docked 100 driver/owner points following a post-race infraction at Atlanta in March, where the team violated two sections pertaining to the modification of a single source supplied part (rear fascia) within NASCAR’s rulebook. Amid the penalty, Keselowski endured a dismal regular-season stretch as he recorded a total of three top-10 results and finished no higher than seventh, which occurred at New Hampshire in July, as he did not make the 2022 Cup Playoffs. This marked his first absence from the Playoffs since 2013. Keselowski, however, rallied throughout the Playoffs by finishing seventh in the Southern 500 before notching his first pole of the season at Texas in September, where he went on to finish eighth. Prior to this, he led 109 laps at Bristol and was within striking distance of contending for the victory until he cut a tire late while leading and falling back to 13th place in the final scoreboard. Keselowski then captured his first top-five result in the No. 6 entry by finishing fifth at Homestead in October. He also crossed the finish line in fourth place during the penultimate event at Martinsville in November, but was disqualified due to his car failing to meet the minimum weight requirements during post-race inspection. Capping off his difficult season in 35th place at Phoenix due to an electrical issue, Keselowski concluded the season in 24th place in the final standings on the strength of a single top-five result, six top-10 results, 224 laps led and an average-finishing result of 19.2.

Currently, Keselowski has achieved three top-five results, six top-10 results and an average-finishing result of 14.8 through the first 14-scheduled events of the 2023 Cup season. His best result of the season thus far has been a runner-up finish at Atlanta in March, where he led 47 of 260 laps and was leading before being overtaken by ex-teammate Joey Logano on the final lap. Nonetheless, the results have placed Keselowski in ninth place in the regular-season standings as he is 102 points above the top-16 cutline to be in contention to make the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs.

Through 499 previous Cup starts, Keselowski has achieved one championship, 35 victories, 18 poles, 142 top-five results, 239 top-10 results, 9,022 laps led and an average-finishing result of 14.0. By making his 500th career start at Gateway, he will become the 46th different competitor to achieve the milestone mark.

Keselowski is primed to make his 500th Cup Series career start at World Wide Technology Raceway on Sunday, June 4, with the event’s coverage to occur at 3:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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