In the NASCAR point standings, Brad Keselowski is only 10th overall. However, after a dominant victory in Kentucky, Keselowski now leads all drivers with three wins for the year.
"Bad Brad" was out in force on Sunday, just a short time after his car was wrecked during a practice session before the Quaker State 400. Keselowski crashed into Juan Montoya during Friday's practice, causing his team to scramble to put together a replacement car. Surprisingly, Keselowski was able to race for the win in the backup vehicle, and did so in dominating fashion.
According to Keselowski's crew chief, Paul Wolfe, the driver was mad at Montoya for causing the crash. Keselowski channeled that anger into his driving, which ultimately let him get the victory.
"Maybe it's human nature that, when you're ticked off or whatever, you're able to find another level," Wolfe told NASCAR News Service. "There are definitely a lot of instances where I've seen Brad be able to find speed in the race car when he is ticked off. Whether or not he's doing it, it seems like it happens."
The win was a big one for Keselowski, as it moved him into 10th overall and made him the winningest driver in this NASCAR season. Due to the way NASCAR's points work, Keselowski has all but clinched a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs, barring a disaster in the final few weeks of the regular season
"Now we can look forward," Keselowski told NASCAR News Service, speaking about his chances for the playoffs. "We don't have to look back at all, and that's so big."
The way NASCAR keeps track of points can be a bit confusing, even for those who follow the sport closely. Points are earned not only for winning races, but also for leading laps and where the driver finishes. That can lead to some discrepancies in the point standings. For example, Kevin Harvick has not won a race this year, but is 28 points ahead of Keselowski, who has now won three. Harvick has been a bit more consistent with his finishing and led a significant number of laps, leading to the difference.
At this time of year, the points really begin to matter, because the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs will soon be decided. The top 10 riders based on points automatically qualify, which means Keselowski put himself in a good position by moving up to 10th overall.
In order to address what fans felt was unfairness to those drivers who rack up wins, but not points, NASCAR's Sprint Cup also has a "Wild Card" system. The two riders ranked 11th through 20th in points with the most wins qualify with the playoff series. Thus, even if Keselowski falls out of 10th, he is still almost assured a spot in the playoffs, as it's unlikely any other racer will get three wins before the Chase starts.
Winning races can also help drivers once the playoffs begin. Riders are given a small number of bonus points based on how many wins they had during the year, which could mean Keselowski has a leg up on the competition even if he doesn't end up being the leader in points by the time the Chase begins. And as Carl Edwards found out the hard way last season, wins are used as a tiebreaker in the event of a tie (Tony Stewart's five wins in 2011 allowed him to win the championship, even though he tied Edwards in points).
As the pieces begin to fall into place for the Chase, NASCAR fans will be watching closely to see who makes the cut and who is left on the outside looking in. At the very least, it appears Keselowski has punched his ticket for the championship dance.