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Lack of patience dents Brad Keselowski’s championship hopes

Keselowski may need to win at Talladega to advance in the Chase.

Sitting comfortably ahead of the cutline to evade playoff elimination -- or as comfortably as one can be in a round featuring a stop at Talladega Superspeedway -- Brad Keselowski recognized he needed to exercise prudence.

If the goal is to a win a second championship, racing aggressively wasn't going to help. Not with a 25-point buffer entering Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. And certainly not with next weekend's Talladega elimination race ominously ahead.

Yet in the heat of the moment, Keselowski couldn't resist. Racing Denny Hamlin for position, Keselowski got a run underneath Hamlin through Turn 4 and edged ahead off the corner. But as Keselowski did, he got loose and slid up the track directly in the path of Hamlin, who couldn't slow down enough and bumped the No. 2 car.

The contact turned Keselowski sideways and sent him spinning through the frontstretch grass. It was then that his race -- and perhaps championship -- took an ugly twist, with the frontend digging into the sod causing extensive damage. Even though he hadn't, it appeared as if Keselowski had driven his car smack into a wall at speed.

For someone who holds realistic championship aspirations, the outcome is significant. Keselowski finished 38th, falling seven points behind the eighth and final transfer to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup semifinal round.

"I probably could have raced less hard with a big points-gap coming in," Keselowski said. "With this format it is probably the smart thing to do, but I don't want to race like that. I want to race my guts out and go for wins. I don't want to points-race. I don't care what the damn format is, I am going to give it my best."

An admirable mindset, sure, but it also presents risks.

Now, Keselowski is facing the unnerving prospect of essentially needing a win at Talladega to stave off elimination. Not an impossibility, as he did just that two years ago when any finish other than first would've knocked him out of the playoffs. He also won on the Alabama track in May.

Still, Talladega is renowned for its unpredictability. It's a place where horsepower-sapping restrictor-plates mandate drivers race in a large pack, thus leaving them no avenue to escape when the inevitable multi-car accident occurs.

"I don't think it is a must-win situation," Keselowski said. "I am not worried about it. I am going to go there and bust my butt to try to win but I don't think it is a must win yet."

With how races at Talladega typically unfold, it's possible the guys immediately ahead of Keselowski in the standings could find trouble. Thus, the door could open for the Team Penske driver to finish well enough to advance without victory.

But under this scenario Keselowski doesn't control his fate like he would've had he been just a smidge more patient on Sunday. He'll not only need help, but require luck to be on his side. Because if he doesn't win, and circumstances don't work in his favor, in all likelihood it will mean he's one of four drivers dropped from the Chase next weekend.

"I like Talladega," Keselowski said. "Talladega has been good to me and I am going to drive my butt off and at the end of the day I have faith that if it is meant to be it is meant to be. We can't get down.

"We will move on to Talladega and give ‘em hell."