Brad Keselowski knew that the way the points looked coming into this weekend's race at Phoenix International Raceway, he would have to win the race in order to secure a seat in the final four drivers competing for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship next week.
He'd faced the same crunch only three weeks before at Talladega Superspeedway and pulled it off triumphantly. But to do it again so soon was simply asking too much, especially when Kevin Harvick is around to secure his fourth visit to victory lane in the last five visits to Phoenix.
"We were a little bit short," Keselowski admitted, after a still-impressive fourth place at Phoenix nonetheless left him eight points short of making it into next week's title decider. "I'm obviously a little disappointed. I'm not disappointed with the effort, just disappointed it didn't work out.
"We weren't the best car today, we were a third to fifth-place car and we finished fourth," he suggested. "I'm not happy with that, but it could be worse. We put in solid efforts, solid runs and it just wasn't enough today."
After the success at Talladega one week he suffered a broken gear the next at Martinsville Speedway. which immediately put him on the back foot in the Eliminator 8 Round of the new-format Chase play-offs, and it proved just too much to be able to recover from over the following races at Texas and Phoenix.
"We just couldn't overcome the Martinsville hurdle," he admitted. "We had a decent day [at Phoenix] but we needed a win to overcome the week we had at Martinsville where we broke the gear. We just weren't quite fast enough to pull that off the last two weeks and that's what it was going to take.
Although obviously disappointed, Keselowski was trying to look on the bright side of 2014, which saw him pick up more wins than any other driver over the course of the entire season.
"It doesn't feel good to have won the most races and not being in it at Homestead, but it still feels like it has been a great season, winning six races," he said. "Nobody is going to win any more than that, and that's something we're proud of.
"It's been a good effort. It's been a great year. It's nothing to hang our head on. We controlled the things we could control for the most part and that's just how this deal works."
Keselowski could still pick up a seventh win next week in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway of course, but this week's elimination means that he's no longer eligible to win the championship itself. Instead he'll be urging on his Penske team mate Joey Logano, who is the last of the Ford-powered rivers left in contention for this year's title.
"We had a great car today," added Keselowski's crew chief Paul Wolfe. "Proud of that. Unfortunate of what happened at Martinsville. We know we're a strong team. We'll keep digging here and go win next week."
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