NASCAR Kentucky 2014 recap: Brad Keselowski's quest for second championship

Todd Warshaw

Winning Kentucky was a nice feeling for Keselowski, but his sights are set on something much bigger.

By any measure it was the kind of overpowering victory that can't help but make one think of bigger glory. Exactly what Brad Keselowski envisioned in the moments after winning Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.

Starting on the pole, Keselowski led 199 of 267 laps in taking the Quaker State 400 for the second time in three years. And in the afterglow it was what occurred after that first win stimulating Keselowski's championship thoughts.

Two years ago, Kentucky springboarded him to his first Sprint Cup championship. In the 19 events that followed, Keselowski finished outside the top-10 just three times and posted an average finish of seventh to outmuscle Jimmie Johnson for the title.

"I want to win another championship. I don't want to win one championship and that be it for my career."-Brad Keselowski

Perhaps not coincidentally, Keselowski crashed-out last season at Kentucky. The resulting 33rd-place finish factored prominently in him not qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

The mandate seems clear for Keselowski to secure a second championship: Win Kentucky.

And obtaining a second championship is of great importance to Keselowski, who jokingly stated Saturday he's in the midst of a midlife crisis. Lightheartedness aside, the 30-year-old seems to understand what a second title would mean for his legacy.

A pair of championships on a résumé eradicates any talk that the first may have been a fluke. Though no one dismisses Keselowski's talent, his inability to follow 2012 with a formidable defense -- Keselowski won just one race and finished 14th in points in 2013 -- cast some suspicions whether he may have just caught lightning in a bottle.

But there are no fluke two-time champions. And if Keselowski can follow through he would join Johnson (six), Jeff Gordon (four) and Tony Stewart (three) as the only full-time active drivers with a multiple titles. Very select company.

"I want to win another championship," Keselowski said. "I don't want to win one championship and that be it for my career. I'm not going to be happy with that. I don't want it to be five or 10 years from now. I don't want to be a guy that contends for a championship every three or four years, I want to do it each and every year.

"I know that opportunity is here and I want to make the most of it."

Just as Kentucky confirmed Keselowski's title contender status, Saturday also demonstrated that when on its game, Team Penske is every bit the dominant organization as Hendrick Motorsports.

NASCAR's resident powerhouse, Hendrick, had won the past five oval track races prior to Kentucky. A run of superiority many attributed to the massive horsepower advantage the team owned over the competition including Keselowski, who himself stated Hendrick was a year ahead the rest of the garage in developing its engines.

Yet amidst Hendrick's stretch of consecutive victories there was Keselowski in the mix just about every week.

He was runner-up to Johnson at Dover. It was Keselowski who led almost half the laps and was out front with five to go at Pocono before debris became lodged on the grille of his nose. His panicked decision to use a lapped car as a vacuum handed the win to Dale Earnhardt Jr. And when Johnson led a Hendrick-powered romp at Michigan, there was Keselowski in third.

"The reality is that Hendrick cars had won, I think, three or four of the last five, and they're going to continue to be the cars to beat," Keselowski said. "So we have to keep pushing, as well."

Kentucky was Keselowski's second win of the season. Both have come on mile-and-a-half tracks -- the exact kind of speedways that encompass half of the 10-race Chase schedule. That furthers Keselowski's belief that another championship is a distinct possibility.

"The things it takes to go fast (at Kentucky) aren't too far off from those other tracks," Keselowski said. "And when you can run well at this point in time in the year, it bodes well for the final half of the season."

A lesson Keselowski knows all too well.

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