AVONDALE, Ariz. — Brad Keselowski doesn’t think he can afford to play defense.
But the question remains whether he’ll have a good enough No. 2 Team Penske Ford to mount a strong offensive in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 (on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET) at Phoenix Raceway.
Entering the final event in the Round of 8 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff, Keselowski is fourth in the standings with a 19-point edge over fifth-place Denny Hamlin.
Three of the four positions in the Nov. 19 Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway already have been locked up by Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and series leader Martin Truex Jr. Yes, Keselowski has a significant advantage entering Sunday’s race, but that’s where the good news ends—at least for now.
In Friday’s knockout time trials, Keselowski was the only Playoff driver who failed to advance to the final round. He’ll start 16th, 14 spots behind Hamlin and 15 behind pole winner Ryan Blaney, who starts the race at a 22-point deficit to Keselowski.
In Saturday’s first practice session, Keselowski struggled early but found some speed late in the session. He ended the 55-minute practice 21st on the speed chart and 10th in fastest 10-consecutive-lap average.
“We’ve been kind of up and down,” said Keselowski, who improved to ninth in final practice. “We didn’t start practice the way we wanted, but we ended really close.”
Even with a points advantage, however, Keselowski has to worry that Blaney, Hamlin, Chase Elliott or Jimmie Johnson could win Sunday’s race and knock him out of the Playoff. That’s why he doesn’t consider defending his lead a viable strategy.
“I think the 11 (Hamlin), the 24 (Elliott) and the 21 (Blaney) have shown that they can win the race, maybe even the 48 (Johnson), so it would not be a good play to be on defense,” Keselowski said. “I’m going to try to win the race.”