Do you hear that? It's Brad Keselowski knocking on the door to victory lane.
The driver of the No. 6 RFK Racing Ford Mustang finds himself well inside the Playoff cutline after this past weekend's Crayon 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and he and the No. 6 team have really built some momentum heading into this weekend's HighPoint.com 400 at Pocono Raceway.
Following up on a solid sixth-place effort a couple of weeks ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Keselowski started Monday's race at Loudon from the ninth position.
With brother Brian Keselowski in his ear, as his regular spotter TJ Majors was out with sickness, Keselowski went to work. While he competed admirably in Stage 1, the performance came up empty on Stage Points as Keselowski ended the Stage in the 12th position.
Under this Stage caution, the No. 6 RFK Racing pit crew had an incredible pit stop, which gained Keselowski four positions on pit road. The excellent performance on pit road, coupled with great adjustments on the car from crew chief Matt McCall, allowed Keselowski to compete inside the top 10 for the duration of Stage 2.
When the green and white checkered flag was displayed for Stage 2, Keselowski would score three Stage Points after an eighth-place finish in the Stage.
Heading into the final Stage, McCall and Keselowski would make a call to gain track position as they would opt to not pit with a large portion of the field. As a result, Keselowski moved his way inside the top five.
The race got into a long-sustained 80-lap green flag run, which allowed the pit strategy for Keselowski to play out, and he remained a fixture inside the top five for the remainder of the race.
At the end of the 301-lap battle, Keselowski and the No. 6 BuildSubmarines.com team scored a much-deserved fifth-place finish.
On a hot and humid day in New Hampshire, the 39-year-old racer was one of two drivers to not fall outside the top-15 throughout the duration of the 301-lap race. The only other driver, who completed every lap inside the top-15, was race-winner Martin Truex Jr.
To give you an idea of how grueling the day was from inside the car, RFK Racing shared a video of Keselowski attempting to cool off following the race:
After cooling off, Keselowski admitted that his team has not had race-winning speed at tracks, like New Hampshire, that utilize the short-track package this season. However, Keselowski is proud that his team keeps fighting to get the best result possible.
“There were a handful of cars that were really just good on the short runs – we were one of them – and some that were really good on the long run than the short run,” Keselowski said after the race. “You just have to capitalize and you saw that on the restarts, where they got really wild – three and four wide.
“We were able to capitalize. We’re clawing – just clawing. We know we’re not fast enough on these types of tracks to win, but we’re getting everything we can out of these days.”
Now, with the momentum of two solid runs in a row, Keselowski heads to a track where he should have a really good shot at winning -- Pocono Raceway.
While Keselowski has just one win at the 2.5-mile triangular track, which came back in 2011, Keselowski's career average finish of 10.7 at Pocono is his second-best average finish at any track on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.
Keselowski has four runner-up finishes at Pocono Raceway to go along with his one victory. In 25 starts at the facility, Keselowski has amassed 11 top-five finishes and 15 top-10s.
Just based on his past performance at Pocono, you'd expect Keselowski to be strong. Sprinkle in the boosted performance of the No. 6 team this season, and factor in the solid streak of finishes they're on currently, and it feels like this is a race where Keselowski truly can break through.
This weekend, Keselowski will pilot the orange, white and chrome King's Hawaiian Ford Mustang, which will feature the names of 307 military heroes on the car through the Tribute to Veterans Program of Keselowski's Checkered Flag Foundation.
For Keselowski, who has always honored Veterans, if he could score his first win as an owner/driver this weekend at Pocono Raceway, it would be a truly special moment.
Photo Credit: Ben Earp, NKP, Courtesy of Ford Performance