Michigan/Texas Weekend Preview: Keselowski hopes for first win at home track

Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski

A rare exception as a driver from outside of NASCAR’s developmental hotbeds, Brad Keselowski calls Rochester Hills, Michigan home.

Decorated already – even with his prime years potentially still in front of him – Keselowski, 32, boasts the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship and 19 career wins. One achievement the No. 2 Team Penske driver would dearly like to add to his resume is a win in his native state.

Keselowski gets the chance to visit Victory Lane beneath the roar of his hometown fans in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway (1 p.m. ET on FS1).

“Michigan will always be my home track and that puts it at a whole other level compared to other tracks of wanting to win in front of your family and your friends at the place you recognize as home,” Keselowski said.

With a win at Michigan, he would become the eighth active driver to win a race in his home state, joining Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

In 13 starts at Michigan, Keselowski claims three top fives, six top 10s and an average finish of 16.5. His career-best finish in The Great Lakes State was a runner-up showing in August of 2012.

“We’ve had a lot of good runs at Michigan and opportunities to win races where we’ve just fallen a little bit short. I think we need just a little more speed and I need to execute at just a tiny higher level, and we can win there.”

This season, Keselowski has established himself as a bona fide contender for his second career championship. He ranks second on the Chase Grid on the strength of two wins, five top fives and nine top 10s. Keselowski placed third last week at Pocono.

“It’s hard to say what a win (at Michigan) would mean to me, but gosh I would sure like to find out.”

Wallace, Reed eye victory for Roush

There’s nothing much better in NASCAR than winning on a home track for a driver, owner, manufacturer, crew chief or even a sponsor.

Darrell Wallace Jr.. (Getty Images)

Darrell Wallace Jr.. (Getty Images)

On Saturday, Roush Fenway Racing drivers Darrell Wallace Jr. and Ryan Reed will try to get the first victory of the season for their team and Ford at a track near and dear to both organizations – Michigan International Raceway – when they run the Menards 250 presented by Valvoline (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

RFR owner Jack Roush’s Roush Industries is located in nearby Livonia, Michigan, while Ford is headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan.

“Coming to Michigan is always special since it’s in Roush Industries’ backyard and we get a ton of people out at the track supporting the team,” said Reed, who sits 10th in the NASCAR XFINITY Series points standings and captured one of RFR’s three victories last season at Daytona. “Our team has always been good at MIS and I think just about every driver loves this place because of the speeds we carry here. We’ve had a rough season so far and I would love more than anything to turn it around this weekend at a track that is so special to Jack (Roush) and our company.”

RFR’s five wins at Michigan stand as the track record. The organization has excelled in the NASCAR XFINITY Series with five driver championships, won by Chris Buescher last season, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011 and 2012, Carl Edwards in 2007 and Greg Biffle in 2002.

If Wallace or Reed can capture a victory at Michigan, they would get RFR one step closer to its sixth driver championship, since an XFINITY Series regular with a win clinches a spot in the 12-competitor NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase.

“Michigan is a pretty cool track to race on,” said Wallace, who sits ninth in the points standings and finished a career-best second at Dover last month. “You can carry a lot of speed down the straightaways and really make some moves. I’m looking forward to getting there and seeing if we can get Ford in Victory Lane in their backyard.”

Bell tries to ring in first win of ’16 at Texas

After winning at Eldora last year while running a partial NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule, Christopher Bell entered this season with a good amount of hype.

The 21-year-old Kyle Busch Motorsports driver started the season off slow, with a high finish of 16th (Daytona) in his first three races, but has turned his performance around with showings of fourth (Kansas), third (Dover) and eighth (Charlotte) in his last three contests.

Christopher Bell celebrates after winning at Eldora Speedway on July 22, 2015 in Rossburg, Ohio.

Christopher Bell celebrates after winning at Eldora Speedway on July 22, 2015 in Rossburg, Ohio.

Bell will attempt to continue his recent success in Friday’s Rattlesnake 400 at Texas Motor Speedway (9 p.m. ET on FS1) – located 160 miles north of Norman, Oklahoma where he grew up.

“As a race car driver all you can ask for is to be able to move around and race multiple grooves and that is something that we are able to do at Texas,” Bell said. “Not only is it a home race for me, it’s also a home race for the Tundra, since all of the production models are made at Toyota’s manufacturing facility in San Antonio, so it would be a really cool place to pick up a win.”

With only 13 races of experience in the NCWTS, Texas marks the first track Bell has ever competed on twice. He placed eighth there last season. Working in Bell’s favor is that his new crew chief Jerry Baxter guided Daniel Suárez to runner-up showings in both races at Texas last year.

“We finished second with Daniel (Suárez) in both Texas races last year, so I feel like we have a good baseline setup to unload with,” Baxter said. “Even though the Truck Series has been off for a few weeks, Christopher’s been racing a lot of other stuff and getting lots of seat time, which is good for a young driver. Coming over from the dirt stuff, the mile-and-a-half tracks that you can move around on seem to really fit his driving style, so I feel like we have a really good shot to run up front and compete for the win Friday night.”

Race Weekend Guide

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Race: FireKeepers Casino 400

Place: Michigan International Speedway

Date and Time: Sunday, June 12 at 1 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 400 miles (200 laps)

What to Watch For: NASCAR debuts updates to its rules package at Michigan as part of an industry-wide collaboration to further enhance the racing. The package, which further reduces downforce, will also be run at Kentucky in July. … Kurt Busch attempts to defend his June Michigan victory from last season after winning on Monday at Pocono. … Six different drivers have won the last six races at Michigan. … Matt Kenseth tries to win his second straight race at Michigan after visiting Victory Lane there in the fall. … Chase Elliott’s five top fives through the first 14 races of his Sunoco Rookie season are only matched by Dale Earnhardt’s total from 1979. Elliott’s achievement of 10 top 10s through the first 14 races of his rookie year was last accomplished by Jimmie Johnson in 2002. … Greg Biffle tries to add to his track-record four wins. He hasn’t visited Victory Lane at any track since June 16, 2013 at Michigan.

NASCAR XFINITY Series

Race: Menards 250 presented by Valvoline

Place: Michigan International Speedway

Date and Time: Saturday, June 11 at 1:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 250 miles (125 laps)

What to Watch For: Daniel Suárez attempts to win his first race and extend his 11-point standings lead over Elliott Sadler. Sadler finished fifth at Michigan last season – the top showing among returning NASCAR XFINITY Series regulars. … Ty Dillon is scheduled to run both the NASCAR XFINITY and Sprint Cup Series races this weekend. He has four top-10 XFINITY Series finishes when running “double duty” this season, including a third-place showing at Pocono last Saturday.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Race: Rattlesnake 400

Place: Texas Motor Speedway

Date and Time: Friday, June 10 at 9 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 250.5 miles (167 laps)

What to Watch For: Matt Crafton goes for his third consecutive win as he tries to defend his June Texas victory from last season. … German Quiroga returns to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for the first time since the 2014 season finale – 19 months ago. Quiroga finished sixth in the NCWTS championship standings that season. … John Wes Townley, who finished third in last year’s June Texas race, searches for his second career victory. … Cole Custer is missing his high school graduation to compete on Friday. Prior to the race he will walk the Texas Motor Speedway stage to receive his diploma from Track President Eddie Gossage.

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