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Keselowski gets off to red-hot start in Chase

Jeff Birchfield • Oct 2, 2012 at 7:22 PM

Three races into NASCAR’s “Chase for the Championship,” Brad Keselowski is on pace to better Tony Stewart’s incredible run from a year ago.

With his victory in this past Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover, Keselowski is now 2-for-3 in Chase races. Before discounting the Dover win because it was based on fuel strategy, then consider Stewart won the same way in last year’s Chase race at New Hampshire.

Stewart actually opened last year’s Chase with two wins, won Chase races No. 7 and No. 8 at Martinsville and Texas, and then captured the season-finale at Homestead to win a tiebreaker over Carl Edwards.

While it’s too early to count anyone out of the Chase at this point, it’s apparent more than one bad finish will likely doom any driver’s chances.

Case in point, Jeff Gordon finished 35th in the Chase opener at Chicagoland. In the two races since, Gordon has finishes of third at New Hampshire and second at Dover.

Despite those pair of top-three runs, Gordon has made up just two spots in the Chase and finds himself 50 points behind Keselowski in the championship race.

With his strong start, Keselowski in the No. 2 Dodge has joined Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin as the championship favorites. Johnson, the five-time champion, ranks second in the standings, five points behind Keselowski. Johnson has been the model of consistency through the first three Chase races with two runner-up finishes and a fourth at Dover.

Hamlin, who came into the Chase as the leader with four regular-season wins, suffered a setback at Chicago with a 16th place finish. He bounced back with a dominant run at New Hampshire, leading 193 of the 300 laps, and was a solid eighth at Dover.

As many predicted, Clint Bowyer has emerged as the strongest of the darkhorse contenders so far. The driver of the Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota has three top-10 finishes. It certainly appears that type of consistency will be needed to be any type of championship threat. There have been an average of seven Chase contenders finishing in the top 10 in the first three Chase races.

The next five drivers in the standings — Stewart, Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick -- have all been solid with no finishes outside the top 20. At this point, however, it seems merely solid isn’t going to cut it.

The biggest surprise has to be the poor performance of Roush-Fenway drivers Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. Kenseth’s best finish through three races is a 14th-place finish at New Hampshire, while Biffle’s best is a 13th-place at Chicago.

So far, they have been outperformed by Kyle Busch and Joey Logano -- two drivers who barely missed qualifying for the Chase. Busch has led 350 laps through the three Chase races, more than any other driver. Meanwhile, Logano is one of only five drivers to post three straight top-10 finishes.

Up next is Talladega, seen as the biggest wild-card race in the Chase. It is a race which one or more of the top drivers could drop in the standings and a race which one fo the drivers at the lower end of the standings could make up some serious ground.

n Bristol Dragway hosted the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series this past Saturday with Joe Santangelo of Marlborough, Conn., driving his 1994 Oldsmobile to the Super Stock victory.

Brad Plourd of Avon, Ind., won the the Super Comp race, while Donnie Carroll of New Milford, Conn., driving a 1997 Pontiac, won the Stock division title.

Rain postponed several of Saturday’s final eliminations until Sunday. The classes, which didn’t finish, will complete their elimination rounds at the next NHRA Southeast Division Lucas Oil event at Reynolds, Ga.

Bristol Dragway concludes its racing season with the Taco Bell Street Fights finale on Saturday. Gates open at noon, with racing at 1 p.m.

n The 16th edition of Speedway in Lights is slated to open Nov. 16.

A major change will be the entrance to the lights show. Those attending will now enter off Hwy. 394 at Bristol Dragway instead of accessing the show through the South entrance of Bristol Motor Speedway.

There are over four million lights and hundreds of displays. Also open for nearly seven weeks are the Johnson Controls Ice Rink and the HVAC Chill Hill.

Speedway in Lights is the single largest fund raiser for the Bristol Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities, raising more than $6.5 million for children’s organizations in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

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