By all means, as Brad Keselowski can attest, the most important lap worth leading is the last one such as the case at Talladega. Despite not leading a lap in over 99% of the laps run in Sunday’s GEICO 500, the 37-year-old Rochester Hills, Mich. native led the one that counted most on Sunday.
Rolling off the 40 car starting grid in 10th, Brad Keselowski dropped to 19th in a frantic first stage that eliminated Team Penske teammate Joey Logano from contention with a lap 60 crash in turn 3. Keselowski, who found himself drafting with the lead pack, was involved in the turn 3 fracas that saw Logano’s No. 22 Ford Mustang flip before landing on all four wheels.
Meanwhile, Brad Keselowski and crew chief Jeremy Bullins kept their wits about them for the second stage. With Keselowski’s No. 2 team repairing his damaged Ford Mustang in efficient fashion, the 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champ rebounded with a solid second place result in stage two.
All things considered, Brad Keselowski was quite the force to be reckoned with at the 2.66-mile superspeedway. Like an expert Texas hold’em poker player, Keselowski did not show his best hand until the most opportune moment of the GEICO 500.
Following a late race caution for debris on the frontstretch, the 10th round of the Cup season went into Overtime with Matt DiBenedetto, a Penske ally in his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford, leading the way with Ryan Blaney’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford entry starting alongside the Californian on the outside lane.
Without delay, DiBenedetto got a hardy push from Keselowski to initially clear Blaney off turn 2 and into the long backstretch. Drawing even across heading into turns 3 and 4, DiBenedetto got another bump draft assist from Keselowski as the leaders raced toward the stripe for the final lap.
At the last moment, DiBenedetto swerved to the top lane with Blaney which left a surging Keselowski on the inside line and with a full head of steam into turn 1. Taking advantage of DiBenedetto’s mistake, Keselowski drove to the line, virtually uncontested, to his first win of this Cup season by just 0.102 seconds over William Byron.
Following his sixth victory at Talladega, Keselowski recalled the frantic moments that decided the GEICO 500.
“I don’t know if I really have an answer on what I anticipated there,” Keselowski observed. “I just knew I was going to run the bottom and play it out, see what happened. And I knew I was beside him (DiBenedetto). Damn, I sure hope you don’t turn down, it’s going to be a big mess. I’m glad he didn’t. Yeah, that was hairy, for sure.”
As it turned out, Keselowski and DiBenedetto did not tangle and both drivers put on a rather incredible tussle that ultimately gave another victory to the Ford Racing brigade. In the end, and no pun intended, everything seemed like a blur for the victorious Michigander.
“Thankfully, [with] the way the race played out, we had a double-file restart at the end and we didn’t even have the chance to stay in line, right?” Keselowski mused. “I’m glad we didn’t have to figure that out.”
Close Yet So Far
On the other hand, DiBenedetto probably wished he had an instant replay when he led the snarling pack to the stripe for the GEICO 500’s deciding moment. Although it was another heartbreaking moment for the Californian, DiBenedetto put things in perspective.
“Oh, man,” DiBenedetto said in his post-race interview with FOX NASCAR pit reporter Jamie Little. “You can say it after every one of these races, you know? It’s tough. It’s just all so circumstantial. We talked about it a lot before the race. It’s tough.
“Our day will come! Our day will come. I’m just lucky to drive this thing and have the support from everybody. Fans, they are so awesome. Driving for the Wood Brothers, it really is a dream come true. Gosh, I’m so close to so many of these things. The Fords are so fast. They believe in me. They do an excellent job. I love what I do. Our day will come. We’ll get there.”
Emerging superspeedway racer William Byron seemed a bit tickled to death about his runner up result at Talladega as he recognized his No. 24 team’s excellent start.
“I think we’re already taking it to the next level [with] the way we’re running,” Byron said. “Even today with the way we fixed the car, [we] finished second. I feel like next week is just hopefully a continuation of what we’re doing.”
As for third place finisher Michael McDowell, the defending Daytona 500 champion flexed his superspeedway prowess once more and just a few positions away from another victory this season.
“I thought we had a shot at it,” McDowell observed. “Honestly, I was pretty close to timing it. I just didn’t drag Brad back enough when I got to his right rear. He kind of pulled down, which is good. I was watching the 24 a little bit too much and needed to drag Brad back a little bit more. We definitely had a shot at it. [We had a] really fast Ford Mustang today.”
Following a fast and frantic GEICO 500 at Talladega, Brad Keselowski, William Byron, Michael McDowell and their on track rivals look ahead to the Buschy McBusch Race 400 at Kansas Speedway (Sunday, May 2nd at 3 p.m. EDT on FS1). Denny Hamlin will enter round 11 of the Cup season as this race’s defending champion.
GEICO 500 Top 10 Results
Stage 1 Top 10 finishers: DiBenedetto-Blaney-Elliott-Hamlin-Byron/Buescher-Bowman-McDowell-Harvick-Bell
Stage 2 Top 10 finishers: Wallace-Keselowski-McDowell-Kyle Busch-Preece/Blaney-Buescher-Stenhouse-Bell-Burton
Top-10 finishers: Keselowski-Byron-McDowell-Harvick-DiBenedetto/Grala-Reddick-Austin Dillon-Blaney-Custer