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Penske driver first from area to advance in NASCAR Cup playoffs
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Penske driver first from area to advance in NASCAR Cup playoffs

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NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400

Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Western Star/Alliance Parts Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway on Sept. 12, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia. 

Two down, and one is already assured of advancing.

Mooresville is now guaranteed to be represented in the second round equivalent to the quarterfinals phase of this season’s back-on-track premier NASCAR Cup Series ongoing postseason party following what took place over the course the Labor Day weekend.

Area resident and local-based Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski backed his own predictions courtesy of his Ford’s first-place finish in the primetime running of the Federated Auto Parts 400 held at the Richmond Raceway to cement his presence in the following stage of the schedule’s championship competition.

Keselowski was on target as it turned out when he predicted beforehand that his Team Penske entry would perform well. He rode at the head of the field for a race-best 192 laps to collect his fourth victory of the season and second of his career at the host site.

The effort took place in the second of the three races on tap to form the first segment of the season’s playoff chase. Each of the initial 16 drivers qualifying for the postseason automatically move on into the following phase with a race win. All remaining positions are determined by respective points standings.

Only those drivers sitting among the top 12 positions upon the conclusion of the first three-race phase advance to the next stage.

For Penske’s Keselowski, he became the second driver to merit movement in the playoffs by backing a feeling he felt entering the Richmond race.

Among a host of area-based entries in the mix for this season’s title, Keselowski becomes the first to be solidified into a continuation in search of his second career Cup crown. In a clean nighttime race when the only caution flags waving were ones scheduled by NASCAR, he continually and consistently ran among the leaders. In addition to pacing the field in regards to the number of laps in the lead, he also padded his performance with bonus points earned by tacking on a stage win to his credit.

“Our Mustang was really hauling,” said Keselowski. “It was really good. I got a great rhythm out on the track. You’ve got to get a really precise rhythm for how you get around here. I was able to find that very early on, put a lot of thought into what I was going to do. It paid off,”

It allowed the Penske driver to continue a strong showing in place since the season resumed in May after being pushed off the track due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The win was his fourth during that span that also played a huge hand in his receiving a contract extension to remain with his current organization.

He wasn’t about to ruin a good thing going either. Keselowski sustained from engaging in a traditional celebration burnout following his win because the specific car he used has already been involved in half his wins. It’s one the team may also use to continue its crown-clinching quest.

“I’m really pumped about this performance,’’ said Keselowski. “The last two years, I haven’t made it all the way. I don’t want to look too far ahead. The next round is going to be really difficult. If we get to Phoenix, we’re going to be really good.”

Signs pointed to that over the weekend.

Following a win the affair’s second stage, the eventual winner wound up making a pass for the lead for the final time just inside 50 laps from the finish around the 0.75-mile oval. He finished with a more than two-second advantage over the next-best entry in the field for the victory.

With three of the available 12 positions filled for the next phase, much remains at stake for the remaining area entries still in the frame for this year’s NASCAR Cup title. The season’s schedule resumes with the running of this weekend’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at the Bristol Motor Speedway on a second straight Saturday night.

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