NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase leader Brad Keselowski is sure he will be able to recover from his worst qualifying of the season during Sunday's race at Martinsville, which he will start from 32nd on the grid.
The Penske racer continued a streak of four consecutive weeks of qualifying 20th or worst with his result in Martinsville qualifying on Friday. But this starting position could prove the toughest to overcome as the track is NASCAR's shortest and slowest oval venue.
In the last three races Keselowski has finished 11th or better, successfully rebounding from poor qualifying efforts like last week at Kansas Speedway where he finished eighth after starting 25th. Keselowski believes he can do the same again this weekend as he tries to fend off multiple Martinsville winners Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin in the title fight. Johnson and Hamlin start from pole and fourth place respectively.
"I think last weekend was harder to pass than this weekend will be, to be quite honest," said Keselowski. "That's not to say it's going to be easy at Martinsville but there's quite a few more variables that work to your favour with strategies and so forth. I feel confident that it'll work its way up here and obviously it's a very long race with 500 laps here so there's a lot of tools in our box to help us recover from that."
Pole winner Johnson, who trails Keselowski by five points in the Chase, expects his rival to have a tough time but is not ruling out a surprise charge. In the previous Martinsville round in the spring, Johnson made it through from 22nd on the grid to lead 112 laps before an incident left him 12th at the finish.
"I don't want to count them out," said Johnson. "I think it'd be foolish for me to sit here and think that they're going to be in harm's way back there and not be able to race their way through.
"Brad is doing a great job and learning and becoming faster every track he goes to. With strategy here, if there is an opportunity, [Keselowski's crew chief] Paul [Wolf] is not going to let that opportunity slide by.
"I'm not counting them out. They're going to have a tough time on pit road with that pick. Initial track position is going to be a problem but I as a competitor have to expect the most out of these guys I'm racing for the championship with."
Keselowski finished ninth at Martinsville in April.