MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Despite a mid-race speeding penalty and a late charge from a down on his luck Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski squeaked by Sunday at Martinsville Speedway to make the Championship 4.
The Team Penske driver placed fourth and left the short track with an eight-point advantage on the cutline.
He’ll compete in the Championship 4 for just the second time in the elimination era (which began in 2014) after he previously made it in 2017.
Keselowski had to charge through the field after he was caught speeding on pit road right outside his pit box with 97 laps to go. Keselowski, who started on the pole, had the last stall before the exit of pit road.
“That was some resiliency,” Keselowski said. “That was certainly some resiliency for sure to make it through a moment like that. I mean, talk about back up against the wall. Oh, my gosh. That’s as backed up against the wall as you can get.
“I just drove the best race I could drive and the team did the best they could do with the remaining pit stops and we were back at it.”
The last 50 laps featured a points battle between Keselowski and Harvick as they made their way through the field, with each driver gaining a point with each position taken.
With six laps to go, Keselowski had a one-point advantage over Harvick.
The Championship 4 lineup – of Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Keselowski – was cemented when Harvick’s last-lap bid to get by Kyle Busch failed.
“I knew it was really close with all of us,” Keselowski said. “But, whew, I hope you guys had fun. It was a hell of a race.”
This marks the first time Team Penske has had two drivers in the Championship 4.
“Making the Championship 4 is a big deal,” said Keselowski, who won the Cup Series championship in 2012. “Credit to Team Penske for that, for having two cars in it, Joey and myself. The way (Ryan) Blaney ran tonight, shows he’s one of the best drivers out there, too. Could easily have been in the Championship 4 if some things would have gone his way.”
Keselowski felt sympathy for Harvick, who entered the race 42 points to the good thanks to his nine wins through the first 34 races, but was eliminated from the playoff race.
“I’ve been there, too,” Keselowski said. “I won six races in 2014, didn’t make the Championship 4 (the year Harvick won the title). Most of anybody the entire year. I’ll tell you, it stings. I feel for Kevin because I’ve been there.
“The format is what the format is. It’s (not) our job to decide the format, it’s our job to race the format.”
The championship race will be held next Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. Keselowski has never won at the one-mile track in 22 starts. He has six top fives there, but just one in the last six races.
Logano won there in March.
“I think all of us are pretty evenly matched going into Phoenix,” Keselowski said. “Denny has had some good runs there, Chase has had some good runs there. Joey won last spring. We’ve been so good on that type of track this season. I think it’s about as even matched as it’s going to get.”