Brad Keselowski's Blue Deuce might not be flat-out fast enough to be considered a favorite in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but the 28-year-old from Rochester Hills, Mich., has a team that's serving notice it won't back down to five-time championJimmie Johnson or anyone else.
Keselowski's crew got the Penske Racing Dodge in and out of the pits so fast on Sunday's final green-flag stop that Johnson couldn't believe his eyes.
"He was a distant second, behind me, then came out in front of me," Johnson radioed, trying to fathom an explanation. His crew chief, Chad Knaus, didn't have one.
Turns out crew chief Paul Wolfe took right-side tires only, and the team got Keselowski out in a flash, providing an opportunity to win the race and spicing up what is becoming one of NASCAR's better rivalries.
"The 48 [of Johnson] might be the favorite for the championship, but we're not going to roll over and just let them have it." Keselowski said. "We're doing everything we can do, and we nailed it on that last green-flag sequence.
"I'm proud as hell of my guys for doing that. Although we might not have the most speed, we're not giving up. We're going to keep 'em honest through this Chase. That's our goal. I think it's good to know that, that [the 48 team is] frustrated, 'cause they should be. We nailed it."
Nevertheless, for the second consecutive week, Keselowski settled for second place, even though Johnson's engine expired in the final laps. It was a fate somewhat easier to digest because of his team's overall performance.
"I think they're going to start calling me 'Silver Medal' at Penske Racing because we've finished second in three out of the last four races [including the Nationwide event at Watkins Glen]," said Keselowski, who also has three Cup victories on his 2012 resume, seven for his career.
After coming up just short in a memorable last-lap duel with Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen, Keselowski was unable to matchGreg Biffle's restart on the green-white-checkered finish in Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Still, Keselowski remained solidly in the Chase picture, sitting fifth in points with a team he think is improving each week
"I feel like the best is yet to come," Keselowski says. "I want to win races, and we've been running solid. It was a great weekend at my home track in Michigan. I want to win here just as bad as I want to win a race in the Chase -- probably more. There was a stretch where I felt like we were going to win it. I had some goose bumps going on.
"What was going through my mind is how far this team has come and how close we were to getting one of the biggest victories of my career. We were close, but it wasn't meant to be."
Keselowski conceded that his car was not quite as fast as Johnson's or Biffle's on Sunday.
"The 48 had a dominant car. He and the 16 [of Biffle] and the 55 [ofMark Martin] just had a lot of speed. We just didn't have enough to run with 'em," Keselowski said. "... Biffle just did a great job [on the final restart]. He passed me legit and I couldn't keep up with him.
"Hopefully, we'll find that little bit of speed to go with the execution we have and be in even better condition to close the deal out."
What Keselowski might lack in speed, he's making up for with consistency. Sunday marked his seventh consecutive top-10 Cup finish, a string which began with his third victory of the season at Kentucky.
"Our team is just executing something phenomenal," he said. "I'm proud of where we're at. I want that one step more so I can get Roger Penske's first championship and we're not far away.
"My team is doing a phenomenal job executing with different strategies and keeping the car in one piece. If we can keep that up in the Chase we're going to be tough to beat."