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LOUDON, N.H. -- Brad Keselowski was first again Sunday, and there was no doubt he deserved it.
With his seemingly easy Sprint Cup Series victory in Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he also added an impressive first to his résumé.
On the heels of his dominating victory in Saturday's Nationwide Series race here, Keselowski became the first driver to sweep a weekend at this 1-mile track, and as long as he attempts to qualify for the final seven races leading up to the Chase, he's locked into NASCAR's playoffs. He's more than happy to bask in the glow of it all.
"Where do I start?" he said. "The team was just really on it today. It really feels like we hit our stride, and I'm kind of quiet and somber because I want to soak it all in. I don't want this moment to go away so quick.
|Brad Keselowski's pinch-me moment came in Victory Lane at New Hampshire on Sunday.|
"Seems like you get in Victory Lane and you're rushed around left and right, you don't really get a chance to soak it in. This was just such a phenomenal weekend, and these don't happen that often, and that's what makes it special. And you try to appreciate them and enjoy them and hope that there's more but not count on it, because these are big deals, winning races at the Sprint Cup level, sweeping a weekend, and it's all possible because of the hard work and effort from everyone at Team Penske."
Keselowski has been a contender all season, coming off a season of disappointment in 2013 when he not only failed to defend his Sprint Cup championship, he didn't even make the Chase.
That seems like ancient history now after his third win so far in 2014, this one coming only two weeks after a victory in Kentucky all but assured him a spot in the postseason. He cut his right hand in Victory Lane after that race uncorking a champagne bottle. There were no issues this go-round with the champagne or even when he was handed the traditional lobster -- a 20-pounder! -- that goes to the race winner by NHMS president Jerry Gappens. And there will be no amnesty for the lobster.
"I'm really looking forward to us eating that thing later this week," he said.
Keselowski also swept the Nationwide and Cup races earlier this season at Las Vegas, but the focus now is obviously turning to the playoffs and what he and his Team Penske group can accomplish.
"This year we're executing, which is really important, as well, and we have a lot of momentum. And I think we have a lot of potential still left in our team that we've got to keep working to get to because everybody is going to turn it up a notch when the Chase comes, and we know that, and we need to have another gear to grab to be able to run for a championship here in 2014," he said. "I think we're close, but I want to keep pushing, and I'm committed to getting another championship. I know [team owner] Roger [Penske] and [crew chief] Paul [Wolfe] sitting next to me are committed to it, and we want to make it happen.
"It's a good feeling for sure."
Keselowski's teammate Joey Logano was not so happy after contact with the car of 72-year-old Morgan Shepherd put him out of the race while he was running second.
"I got taken out by the slowest car out there," said a clearly fuming Logano. "You would think there would be some courtesy to the leaders. We were in second place. He gets out of the way on the straightaway and then goes into the corner and slides right up into the lane I was in.
"Whatever. I don't know.
"We will fix it and go at it again. Daytona is Daytona and everyone else crashed, but this week -- we were doing a good job after having a left-rear flat in practice and we were running second with our backup car. I can't get too mad at ourselves over this. It is just dumb that it happened. I feel like that should be stuff that shouldn't happen at this level of racing."
NASCAR director of competition Robin Pemberton after the race addressed the Shepherd-Logano situation and said Shepherd always maintained minimum speed and was given no warnings during the race by NASCAR.
There were other good runs on the day, with rookie Kyle Larson righting his team's ship with a third-place finish after three disastrous weeks that had dropped him from within the Chase field to outside. If the Chase started today, he would be the final entrant on points.
"Yeah, you know, it's a shame we've had those three bad runs because we've been a really good car, we've just had a lot of bad luck -- power steering issues at Sonoma, right front [tire] at Kentucky and then typical Daytona," he said. "Yeah, I mean, we were up to tied for seventh in points before Sonoma and fell back to 18th.
"It really had us scratch our heads and praying to get some good finishes again, and now hopefully we've turned it around and can start getting some consistent finishes again."
Kyle Busch finished second, with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth finishing fourth and Denny Hamlin finishing eighth for a team that has sometimes seemed to be lacking speed this year. Busch pointed out there's still work to be done, however.
"You know, we haven't seen the 11 [Hamlin] and the 18 [himself] winning as many short tracks like we used to be so dominant at, and Denny went and did a test for us at Richmond last week for Goodyear and learned some things that he brought here," he said. "And so today was just a true testament to teamwork, and what we did with our race car was somewhat try to mirror what the 11 was doing this weekend and put some of their stuff in. Real proud of the effort there that we had somewhat similar race cars, all three of us did for that matter, I think we were second, third, fourth for a part of the race because there was only one car [Keselowski's] that was lights-out on the rest."
Then there was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who appeared crestfallen despite finishing 10th and also locking up a Chase spot if he tries to qualify for the next seven races.
"That was frustrating," he said. "That was the hardest I've ever worked for a 10th-place finish. But we have been off all weekend. It's been a real frustrating weekend to be honest. The guys worked real hard. [Crew chief] Steve [Letarte] and the engineers did their best to try to get the car more competitive. Just to be lacking that much speed against a lot of those guys. ... I had to drive so perfect every lap. That was really frustrating.
" ... I don't know, I wish we were better. We are going to have to come back here and run better than that to have a shot in the Chase. We will keep working. Tenth place, I'm really disappointed, but I remember when we used to like these."
Jimmie Johnson, the series' only other three-time winner in 2014, crashed early in the race and finished 42nd.
Next up for the Sprint Cup Series is a week off before heading to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400 on July 27 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).