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Defending champ Keselowski not discouraged

Sat., May 25, 2013, midnight

Defending series champion Brad Keselowski believes he’s still the fastest in Sprint Cup, even if his results four months into the season don’t reflect that.

Keselowski is winless and seventh in points heading into the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., on Sunday. He opened the season with four straight top-four finishes and seven top-10s in the first eight races.

Recently, he’s struggled to stay near the top with a 33rd-place finish at Richmond, an 11th at Talladega and a 32nd at Darlington.

It’s left Keselowski shaking his head because he knows the speed for the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford is as strong as ever.

“If there were a right-side seat and you rode with me through the last two or three mile-and-half (tracks), you’d go, ‘Damn, we’re the fastest car here,’ ” Keselowski said.

His chances didn’t improve at Charlotte. He qualified 20th for NASCAR’s longest race and will start outside the top 10 for the sixth straight race.

It’s not the sort of follow-up season Keselowski envisioned. He won’t have crew chief Paul Wolfe this weekend as he serves his two-race suspension for unapproved parts at the race in Texas.

Still, Keselowski isn’t discouraged or distracted from following the path that will get him where he wants to be – a leader in the standings and in the NASCAR garage.

“It’s hard to really say I’m happy with where I’m at because I’m not, but I’m not unhappy either,” he said. “Winning a championship is a step to have that opportunity to become a leader, but there are other steps.”

Hamlin captures pole

Denny Hamlin broke the track record with a lap of 195.624 mph to capture the pole for the Coca-Cola 600 on Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Hamlin, who has never won a Sprint Cup race at CMS, was one of eight drivers to top the previous record of 193.708 set last October by Greg Biffle.

Panel upholds penalties

A NASCAR appeals panel has upheld the penalties for two Richard Childress Racing Nationwide crew members who were also criminally charged for fighting with Nelson Piquet Jr. at Richmond last month.

Crew members Thomas Costello and Michael Searce of driver Brian Scott’s team were both suspended for four Nationwide Series races and fined $15,000 each.

The suspensions begin next week at Dover. The two will be able to return in late June at Kentucky.

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