HAMPTON, Ga. -- Brad Keselowski says there are parallels between his current situation and that of Tony Stewart in 2011. Two drivers seeking their first win of the year, the uncertainties of a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup looming larger and larger with each passing week.
Stewart, then a two-time champion, found lightning in a bottle after squeaking into the 2011 Chase with a pair of top-10 finishes at Atlanta and Richmond. Ten weeks and five wins later, the owner/driver had captured his third Cup title.
Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion, is hoping for similar results as he heads into this weekend's AdvoCare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Penske Racing driver is 11th in points, but in the format used to determine the two Wild Card positions for the Chase, he's No. 4, trailing Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Stewart, all of whom have one win.
Stewart, sidelined for the remainder of the season due to a broken leg suffered Aug. 5, will almost certainly fall outside the top 20 and Chase consideration after Atlanta.
"What Tony did in 2011 is quite easily the most remarkable Chase that I think we've seen so far, and at this point in the season he was very similar to where I am right now," Keselowski said Friday. "I'm one of those people that believes in history, believes that there are lessons to be learned from it, and I'd be a fool not to look at someone who has been in the same situation and came out at the end of it having one of the best seasons ever."
Of course, the immediate task in front of Keselowski, 29, and his No. 2 team is earning a spot in the Chase. Eighth in points following a runner-up finish at Watkins Glen International, Keselowski slipped outside the top 10 last week with a 30th-place result at Bristol Motor Speedway.
A victory, either this weekend or next week at Richmond, would go a long way in locking him into the 10-race playoff. But winning, he said, isn't a necessity.
"No, but I want to," he said. "That's my goal.
"One win would feel pretty damn good. It still wouldn't lock us in. I think that we're going here with a 'win the race' mentality, but the next two weeks do we have to win to make it in? No. We still control our own destiny."
The last defending champion that failed to qualify for the Chase the following season was Stewart, in 2006. That's one history lesson on which Keselowski prefers not to dwell.
Instead, he said he bases his outlook on recent tests, here as well as Richmond, outings he described as "very successful."
"I feel like we'll be a team that can quite honestly win the race, so from a points perspective I can't sit here and tell you that it's not on my mind, but my primary focus is just on winning the race," he said. "If we can get that done, then everything takes care of itself."
A nine-time winner in Cup, Keselowski says success provides opportunity, but brings with it no guarantees. Adversity can be humbling; it can also make a team stronger in the long run.
"Without a doubt once you've had success you feel established; it's easy to feel like -- I should clarify -- that the world owes you something just because you've been successful once," he said.
"That's not how the world works. That's why we don't race the stat board. That's why we don't race any of that stuff. We race the race track every week and it's a whole new race and what you've done in the past is great, and it certainly gives you respect, but there's a reason why we still run the race and that's part of what makes sports so great and so much fun for me ? because every week is an opportunity to prove yourself for the better, and sometimes for the worse.
"What you've done last year or even last week once they drop the green flag is irrelevant. It's a different day and a different time, but it's also another opportunity, and that's how I view it."
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