MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — It's been a ho-hum year for Brad Keselowski, who has been overshadowed all season by teammate Joey Logano.
As Logano reeled off three consecutive wins to thrust himself into the role of favorite to win the Sprint Cup title, Keselowski quietly slipped through to the third round of NASCAR's playoffs without much fanfare.
Now that this stretch is about to begin Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, Keselowski feels like he has a clean slate and as good a shot as anyone to win the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
"I think this bracket, knock on wood over here, I think it's going to be our best bracket yet,"Keselowski said. "It feels like the season has started over. I feel literally coming into Martinsville like I'm going to Daytona for the 500, because nothing else that's happened before now really matters.
"To me, there is no momentum. It's what you make out of these next three or four races."
The bracket begins on the short track in Virginia, where Keselowski was second fastest in Saturday's final practice. Jimmie Johnson, who was eliminated in the first round of the Chase, topped the chart. Keselowski and reigning Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick were second fastest.
Keselowski liked the speed in his No. 2 Ford, but wasn't sure what race day will bring.
"It's practice and not racing, and it's a big difference," he said. "This practice session is always really hard to get a great read for what your car is going to be in the race. You've got cars coming in and out and the track always has those marbles at the end. It's just really, really tough to get a read for what you're going to have come race time, but it's still fun to be fast."
From Martinsville the series shifts to Texas Motor Speedway, and then Phoenix International Raceway, where the field will be whittled to four drivers for the championship finale. A win in any of the next three races earns an automatic berth to the title-deciding race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Keselowski was second at Martinsville in the spring and has three consecutive top-six finishes at Phoenix.
It's Texas where he knows he'll need to be faster.
Although he was fifth in the spring and third last year, he's not sure if that will be good enough to compete against teammate Logano.
"I look at Texas as a track where we haven't been where we want to be with the No. 2 car, but my teammate, Joey Logano, has been really fast," Keselowski said. "So we know we have the potential, so we've just got to find it, and we're going to do that by going to work."
Some other things going on at Martinsville Speedway:
NEW SAFER BARRIERS: Martinsville Speedway was like most tracks this year in that it added energy-absorbing barriers in a safety effort that started after Kyle Busch was injured in a crash at Daytona.
But the addition of 1,600 feet of SAFER barrier at the short track has narrowed the racing surface and created an environment that might lead to an increase in bumping and banging on Sunday.
"The fans should appreciate it because it's going to make it more narrow than it was," said Carl Edwards. "It seems driving down the straightaway trying to pass cars even in practice, it just seems really tight. As narrow and tough as this place was, it's just going to be narrower and tougher."
The additional barriers removed about 30 inches of racing surface from each of the 800-foot straightaways.
Jeff Gordon said his eyes got big when he saw the new barriers, and wasn't even aware that he brushed one of them during a Friday practice.