NASCAR New Hampshire 2014 recap: Statement win for Brad Keselowski

Jared C. Tilton

A motivated Brad Keselowski isn’t content with just winning races; he wants something greater.

Oh how quickly perceptions can change.

A month ago Hendrick Motorsports couldn't lose. The cloak of invincibility spurred by Jeff Gordon taking the honors at Kansas; Jimmie Johnson rolling off victories at Charlotte, Dover and Michigan; and Dale Earnhardt, who won the Daytona 500 in February, going to Victory Lane at Pocono.

It was a run of excellence that left the competition mystified, with Hendrick seemingly a sure bet to win a 12th Sprint Cup championship.

That was then though and this is now. Because since Johnson's June 15 Michigan win Hendrick hasn't revisited Victory Lane, while Brad Keselowski of Team Penske has asserted himself by taking two of the past four races.

Keselowski's latest win came Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He led 138 of 305 laps and his superiority was never really challenged on the track or in the pits where the No. 2 Penske team was flawless.

The triumph mirrored Keselowski's win two weeks ago at Kentucky Speedway, a race which saw him lead nearly 75 percent of the laps.

"The team was just really on it today," said Keselowski, who also won Saturday's Nationwide Series race. "This was just such a phenomenal weekend, and these don't happen that often, and that's what makes it special. You try to appreciate them and enjoy them ... because these are big deals — winning races at the Sprint Cup level, sweeping a weekend."

The recent events are far different than last month. That was when Keselowski noted the vast discrepancy in horsepower Hendrick enjoyed over the competition, saying it would take a year before anyone caught up.

But that apparent advantage wasn't evident Sunday where Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano ran 1-2 for much of the afternoon. As for Hendrick, the best finishing car was Earnhardt in 10th. This was despite the organization testing at the one-mile track last month.

"I don't know what they've got, but they've got something that's really good right now and we're playing catch-up," said Gordon, who ran out of fuel in the closing laps and finished 26th.

With his third win of the season Keselowski tied Johnson for series-best. Adding further proof that with the regular season winding down and the Chase for the Sprint Cup looming, a sequel to the 2012 championship battle between Keselowski and Johnson appears in the works.

A repeat of history would be just fine with Keselowski, who beat Johnson to win his first Cup championship. In what should be construed as an ominous sign, Keselowski says his team is even better than it was two years ago.

"I think in a lot of ways we're stronger than that," Keselowski said. "I don't think we've had this much speed before. I feel like I'm in a really strong rhythm right now. I think some of last year's struggles put me in a spot to work harder and become a better race car driver, and I think we're combining all those things and we're seeing the fruits of that labor."

More than just winning, Keselowski is confident about a repeat of 2012 for other reasons. He relishes the No. 2 team's level of execution. Already Keselowski has set a career-high for laps led (844), and with 17 races still to go there's no reason to think that number won't climb even higher.

All-around, it's a level of performance that wasn't there last season when Keselowski stumbled in defense of his title and missed the Chase outright.

"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," Keselowski said. "We know we need to have another gear to grab to be able to run for a championship here in 2014.

"I think we're close, but I want to keep pushing. "I'm committed to getting another championship."

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