HAMPTON, Ga. — Brad Keselowski arrived at Atlanta Motor Speedway sporting a fresh haircut Friday morning.
The aerodynamic look is a matter of immediate necessity. Keselowski needs to speed things up to have a shot to defend his NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.
The Champ is now a Bubble Boy, precariously in 11th place with two races to go before the 12-driver field is set for the Chase. Keselowski preps for the grind of the Advocare 500 Sunday night just four points behind teammate Joey Logano for the last locked-in position.
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"I look at it, and I told this to my crew chief Paul Wolfe, and I know there are some people that look at it and say, 'You've got to be scared about not making it,' '' Keselowski said. "I look at this as a tremendous opportunity to prove the merits of our team and that we can operate at a high level because there have been a lot of circumstances out of our control that have put us in this position to not be locked in so late in the season, and our back is against the wall. But these are the times where great teams step up and they make something happen and where great drivers step up and they make a play."
Keselowski has two at-bats, if you will — here and at Richmond next weekend. It's been a rough ride for former Cup champions in 2013. Tony Stewart, a three-time champ, broke a leg competing in a dirt-track race and is out for the season. Jeff Gordon, a four-time champ, is another Bubble Boy, currently in 13th place.
Will Keselowski be the guy who takes the next hit?
Keselowski's Penske Racing Ford has raced well this season, but nowhere near the dominance of 2012 when the team won five races. He has seven top 5s and 11 top 10s, but has yet to win a race.
He understands the great expectations that come with sitting on the king's throne and the critics who are quick to dismiss him as a one-hit wonder.
"Yeah, in this world it's easy to get kicked in the gut pretty quick," he said. "There are a lot of scenarios and a lot of things that have been outside of our control that haven't gone our way, which has been very frustrating, but part of this sport as well.
"In this sport it's inevitable that the way it works is a bit of a roller-coaster and we're at the bottom of it right now. There's no doubt about it. I feel like the key to the sports world — and, really, the key to life — isn't about falling down, it's about getting back up. I'm confident because I started from nothing and was able to win a championship. We were able to climb that hill. We were able to climb that mountain, and I'm confident we'll be able to do it again."
Keselowski is also a bit of a NASCAR history buff and knows that a sprint to the championship is not unprecedented. Stewart struggled in much the same way in 2011 before, and after barely qualifying, he won five of the 10 Chase races to claim the championship.
"What Tony did in 2011 is quite easily the most remarkable Chase that I think we've seen so far, and at this point in the season he was very similar to where I am right now," Keselowski said. "I'm one of those people who believes in history, believes that there are lessons to be learned from it, and I'd be a fool not to look at someone who has been in the same situation and came out at the end of it having one of the best seasons ever."