Brad Keselowski is not the first name that pops to mind when thinking of top Chase contenders.
Denny Hamlin is smoking hot these days with five wins.
Jimmie Johnson, the five-time champ, is in first place again and ready to roll for No. 6.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. — NASCAR Nation's favorite son — is seventh and the clubhouse favorite among the masses.
Then there is Keselowski, the oddball, sitting in second place.
The kid from Rochester Hills, Mich., doesn't fit the standard NASCAR driver profile. He is the face of the sport in social media, highly active on Twitter as other stars still are adapting to a new business model. He can be cantankerous and aggressive on the track — ask Kevin Harvick — but also comes across as respectful of his competitors, embracing the rich history of the sport.
And he can be off-the-cuff funny. Witness his exchange with Jeff Gordon after the race in Atlanta, where during the post-race news conference he thumbed through the race program and suggested to Gordon that he ought to check out the Hooters girls on one of the pages.
It all adds up to a likable guy who stands an excellent chance to be chasing a title in the last race of the season in November at Homestead.
"I refuse to let it sink in because there is so much work left," he said after winning the Chase opener at Chicago.
Keselowski, 28, is also the last man standing for Dodge, which will not be back as a manufacturer for the 2013 season. So he's flying solo for Penske Racing, representing the brand and fighting off the forces of nature conspiring against him — such as all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers in the Chase.
It starts with Johnson, at the front of the pack as the field heads to Dover this weekend.
"We all know how good his team is," Keselowski said. "We all know how good he is. Look at the resume over the last 10 years. It's impeccable. To be racing him, whether for the lead or for 10th, is an accomplishment."
There's probably a bit of truth — and gamesmanship — to that comment. Keselowski and Johnson have teetered on the edge of a full-blown rivalry this season. Keselowski got the best of Johnson in Chicago, where he was trailing Johnson by a second on Lap 230 as both pitted. Keselowski exited beside Johnson but quickly surged ahead. Johnson claimed Keselowski blocked him.
Keselowski won the race, and although the move did not affect the outcome, it set the stage for a confrontational relationship down the road.
"We won the round, but we didn't by any means knock them out," Keselowski said in Chicago. "We've got a lot of racing left to go."
Quirky Keselowski making solo run at Sprint Cup title
Last man standing for Dodge has budding rivalry with Johnson
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