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Keselowski eyeing title bid as Chase approaches

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Brad Keselowski is talking the talk of a title contender.

The 28-year-old Keselowski probably won't need a wild card to reach the Chase for the Sprint Cup this year. He's near the top of the standings after back-to-back second-place finishes at Watkins Glen and Michigan.

Perhaps more important, he's starting to show some impressive consistency.

"We're in a great position as a team as the Chase is about to start here to make some noise," Keselowski said. "I'm just feeling lucky to be there -- but then, of course, we obviously want to win. I can taste the legitimacy of being a championship contender."

Keselowski made it to the Chase last year as a wild card, but now he's solidly in fifth place with three races remaining in the Cup's regular season. Not only does Keselowski have three wins in 2012 -- tied for the most on the circuit -- but he also has seven straight top-10 finishes, five of which were in the top five.

Next up is Bristol, where Keselowski won earlier this season.

Keselowski finished fifth in the Cup standings last year, a 20-spot jump from 2010. This year began poorly, with a late accident in the Daytona 500. Earlier in that race, he caused a bit of a stir when he posted on Twitter during a red-flag stoppage. Afterward, NASCAR said it was OK for Keselowski to keep his cellphone in his car during events, and that all drivers were encouraged to use social media.

Before long, Keselowski was earning attention for his driving again, with wins at Bristol and Talladega. A victory at Kentucky started his current streak of top-10s.

Last weekend, he led at his home state's track before being passed by Jimmie Johnson with about 10 laps to go. Johnson's engine later faltered, and Keselowski finished second behind Greg Biffle.

"My team has done an excellent job over the last few weeks of hitting their marks, executing on all fronts, no mistakes, solid cars," Keselowski said. "I'm very proud of that."

Before the race, Keselowski had said he felt he was at least tied for first in the standings, even though the point totals said otherwise. His reasoning was that when the Chase starts, drivers receive bonus points for regular-season wins, and the point totals don't really matter. In that sense, it was a disappointment to fall just short of what could have been a series-leading fourth victory.

"Those bonus points mean a lot for the Chase, where consistent, solid-place finishes without risking a bad day are extremely important," Keselowski said. "You'll probably be happier with second in the Chase than what you would be here."

Keselowski rubbed some drivers the wrong way earlier in his career with his aggression, and after he spent time in development with Hendrick Motorsports, he signed with Penske in the fall of 2009 when a Cup ride with HMS didn't materialize.

After last weekend's race, when he was passed by Johnson of Hendrick but still finished ahead of him, Keselowski was asked if there was any extra satisfaction to be competing race-for-race with HMS.

"It's a terrible way to live your life where you live it looking back at missed opportunities. I'm trying to live it where I look forward at the great opportunity that I have now," Keselowski said. "I guess the thought enters your mind that it was never meant to be and this was what was meant to be. That makes me feel very fortunate there was some higher calling in a way.

"It's hard to always reflect on that, especially when you're struggling. But I'm not struggling now, so it's easy to say."

Make no mistake, even when he tries to take the high road, Keselowski relishes competition.

After Sunday's race, he spent a decent amount of time talking about Johnson's No. 48 car, portraying himself as a bit of an underdog.

Then he began looking ahead. "Although they might have the most speed, we're not giving up," Keselowski said. "We're going to keep `em honest through this Chase."