SANDERS: Brad Keselowski Is The New Superstar Of Superspeedwaysby Benjamin Sanders October 16, 2017
Another wild and unpredictable race at Talladega Superspeedway had a familiar face reveling in success after the checkered flag. Brad Keselowski and his Team Penske Ford team once again captured the victory, cementing a place in the Round of 8 of the NASCAR Playoffs.
Keselowski made a run at leader Ryan Newman and completed the pass heading into Turn 3 while also avoiding the advances of teammate Joey Logano, factory teammate Trevor Bayne, his mentor Dale Earnhardt Jr. and 2016 Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin.
“Yeah, of course it’s a special day any day you can win, but to win at Talladega for the fifth time is something I was never sure I’d ever have the opportunity to do,” Keselowski said. “Just winning here once felt pretty incredible, and it’s hard to believe that was eight‑some years ago. To win here again, it still feels pretty darned good. It doesn’t feel much different. I’m a little older now, but yeah, you never know when your first win or last win could be, and I want to of course soak this one up and be thankful for it, and of course there’s a lot of carnage and other things that we were able to survive that give me good reason to be thankful for, as well.”
Casual fans may not have noticed, but Keselowski has become one of the best, if not the best restrictor plate racer in the field. Over the past five seasons, the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion has won five restrictor plate races out of a possible 24. That’s a whopping 21-percent of the points-paying events run at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway.
What is even more impressive is that it’s not just because of his manufacturer affiliation with Ford and Roush Yates Engines, despite Ford drivers winning the last seven superspeedway races dating back to Keselowski’s win in the 2016 Geico 500 in May 2016. Yes, four of his six total wins are in a Ford, but he was also victorious in his 2012 title-winning season in a Dodge Charger and in 2009 running a partial schedule for James Finch in a Chevrolet Impala in a memorable finish with Carl Edwards.
Keselowski has proved he can win in pack racing and the much maligned two-car tandem drafts. He is also adept at manipulating the air, side-drafting other drivers and blocking. For three of his wins, he was leading at the white flag and for the other three, he was second and passed the leader on the last lap. Don’t look now, but Keselowski is only four superspeedway wins behind Earnhardt Jr., one of the all-time greats at restrictor plate racing and only one victory away from tying him at Talladega. On Sunday, Keselowski even sported a throwback celebratory paint scheme akin to the one he raced in 2008 for JR Motorsports and the U.S. Navy.
Keselowski hasn’t had the greatest second-half to the 2017 season and has suffered some awful luck and racing circumstances, but Sunday’s victory may springboard him to a championship run.
“I think we made it through three big wrecks, and the races here at Talladega in the spring and both Daytona’s, we got caught up in all the big ones,” Keselowski said. “This one we made it through all the big ones. I thought we were probably pretty strong at those other races and didn’t have the luck. Today we had the luck that we needed, and then we were able to execute at the end with the moves on the last two or three laps, so just really, really special win to be able to put it all together at the end.”
What was even more impressive about Sunday’s win was the adversity Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe overcame. A faulty radio antenna made communication almost impossible until the late stages when the team secured a new one.
“Well, it was tough, obviously,” Wolfe said. “He was coming in and out, and obviously when he would come down the front stretch close to the pit box, he could hear a little bit of what we were saying, and I could hear him a little bit. It was breaking up really bad. But it was kind of ‑‑ the first couple opportunities we had to come down pit road, I kind of left it up to him because I couldn’t tell how much he could hear or not. We didn’t really need to hear what he had to say, but it was important for him to be able to hear the spotter.”
With the pressure off, for Kansas at least, Keselowski can focus on earning stage wins, Playoff points and a much-needed reset before the Round of 8 begins at Martinsville Speedway.
Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images