Brad Keselowski won for a first time at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday – no small deal for him – and now he’s primed for the postseason.
“I’m ready for the Chase to start right now,” Keselowski said after he held off Kyle Busch by .159 seconds to win the Coke Zero 400 in overtime. “Let’s go!”
Nine races remain before the Chase begins and that gives Keselowski plenty of time to continue to build on what’s become a stalwart season for his Team Penske No. 2 Ford. He already has three victories, so he’s certain to be among the favorites when the postseason begins.
But his Saturday victory also provided a huge dose of confidence for Keselowski, who had never won at Daytona – along with Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway one of NASCAR’s two restrictor-plate tracks – in 14 previous starts. Making his Daytona struggles more puzzling is the fact that he has four career victories at Talladega.
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And we’ve been awful.”
Brad Keselowski, on his team’s previous performances at Daytona
“The wins are never easy to come by, and I think this one means a lot to me for sure because looking at our past here, it hasn’t been all that rosy,” said Keselowski. “I was telling (team owner) Roger Penske when I was in victory lane and the fireworks were going off, usually I’m loading up the car and about to go to the airport, so it’s nice to be here and have a great finish.”
He didn’t expect much from Saturday’s race.
“It seemed like it was never going to happen,” said crew chief Paul Wolfe. “You keep getting the questions, ‘How do you guys win at Talladega and not do it at Daytona? I got that question a lot this weekend. It’s great.”
Keselowski had four previous restrictor-plate victories – all at Talladega
Keselowski said the team has usually tried to take what worked at Talladega to Daytona. Race after race, year after year, that didn’t work. He finished 20th at the season-opening Daytona 500, then won at Talladega for a fourth time in May.
“From the get go, we’ve been really strong at Talladega and we’ve used that approach (at Daytona),” Keselowski said. “And we’ve been awful.”
This time, he and Wolfe tried something different when they arrived for Daytona’s summer race. The Ford’s setup was completely different from what won at Talladega.
It was good enough to lead 115 of the race’s 161 laps.
20 Career victories for Keselowski
“Sometimes you need to look in the mirror and you need to do something different,” said Keselowski. “That might sound easy to come to. But there are a lot of roadblocks and barriers for a team to do that. I’m proud we could do that and put this together.”
Keselowski’s five restrictor-plate victories are the most on the Cup circuit since 2009 (Dale Earnhardt Jr. had three).
“Talladega looks real good, Daytona not so much,” said Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion. “There’s a lot of great drivers on these plate races and a lot of variables to put them all together. Those numbers could shift a lot of ways fairly easily, so it’s hard to make a comparison.
“But when we have a great car like we did today, I feel like I can compete and make a run for it. You’ve always got to have the car, but when you have the car, you’ve got to make the most of it, and we were able to do both.”
Keselowski’s ability to stay ahead of the pack allowed him to avoid a 22-car accident on Lap 90. The wreck started when Jamie McMurray lost control of his Chevy and tagged Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson. That brought Jimmie Johnson into the fray and the cars piled up behind them.
The victory also held several landmarks for Keselowski and Team Penske. It was the 100th Cup victory for Team Penske in a year in which it is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It was also Keselowski’s 20th victory in 250 career starts.
“And we finished first (Saturday),” Keselowski said. “I like that number best.”