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Keselowski’s Chicagoland Pass Was An Instant Classic

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 18 2014

Brad Keselowski pulled off one very impressive pass to win at Chicagoland Speedway last Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

Some week-old Chaseburgers:

Once upon a time, great moments in auto racing earned names. You got your “Spin and Win”. Your “Pass in the Grass”.

On Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, there was a crazed humdinger of a pass that deserves big love. Perhaps even a name.

It came with 16 laps to go in what had been a pretty dull race. Kevin Harvick and rookie Kyle Larson had restarted the race on the front row a couple laps before and were pumping major drama into the event by going door-to-door for the lead and, so it seemed, the victory.

Heading into Turn 1 on the 1.5-mile oval, Larson opted for an upper groove that had been good to him all day long while Harvick went to the bottom. As they parted in an effort to improve positioning down the bowed backstretch, Brad Keselowski found grip in the middle of the track and shot the gap.

“Wow, what a pass,” ESPN TV guy Dale Jarrett shouted.

Indeed.

And for several important reasons. It gave Keselowski the lead and then the victory – his fifth of the season. It came in the Chase-opening race. It moved him into to the second round of the playoffs and made him a major favorite to win the championship. And it was just plain racy.

Andy Petree, perhaps the best racing analyst in television, called the move risky. Correct. And that made it even more wonderful. Risk is something that tends to go missing in racing these days.

Put Keselowski’s pass there with Carl Edwards’ banzai move on the final turn at Kansas Speedway in 2008 in terms of memorable Chase passes.

Sunday’s was so good that it may deserve a name. Such as…

– Speaking of Kyle Larson, well, let’s. The kid who won’t be asked to endorse shaving products any time soon showed skill and guts over the final laps. Going door to door with bad boy, tough-to-chew hunk of gristle Harvick takes both.

Add Keselowski and four-time champion Jeff Gordon into blender and you head to the fridge for a post-race sandwich knowing you have seen the future.

Gordon, a past future star himself, made his way over to Larson after the race, got in the kid’s face and said, “Just how proud I am of him. I think this kid is the real deal. He’s going to be a star in this series for a long time. I really wanted to see him win because I like him and I know he’s going to win a lot of races, but I also didn’t want to see those other guys win. I‘m a big fan. I like seeing young guys out there driving like that. That’s so much fun. That’s what this sport is all about. I just want to let him know what a great job I thought he did.”

Even Harvick, who has been known to stalk and attack fellow competitors after races, talked respectfully of Larson.

“Obviously Kyle wants to win a race and that’s how you’re supposed to race and everybody was going after it pretty hard,” Harvick said.

That’s tall praise.

Well-deserved praise.

– Speaking of Kyle Larson’s team: Chip Ganassi Racing appears to be headed in the right direction.

Both of its drivers – Larson and Jamie McMurray – were cuspers during the chase to the Chase. They sat 18th and 19th when the 16-driver Chase started. After it started, they ran up front and led laps at Chicagoland. Both had cars good enough to earn podiums, if not wins, had things played out differently late in the race.

Not that long ago, observers had a tough time figuring out why open-wheel legend Roger Penske had such a tough time assembling a consistently top-tier NASCAR operation. He had, after all, made winning races and championships look so easy in Indy cars.

Same deal with Ganassi. How could a guy who was winning races and championships like crazy in open wheel only have six victories in 779 starts in Cup?

Penske now runs with, and regularly beats up on, Cup’s traditional big boys.

Ganassi, by putting Larson and McMurray in fast cars, could be on its way to the top tier as well.


Speaking of teams moving in right direction: Aric Almirola gave Richard Petty Motorsports and its fans something to feel big-picture cheerful about – blown engine or not.

Drivers will tell you that it all starts with having fast cars and Almirola, a Chaser as a result of winning at Daytona in July, had one at Chicagoland.

Almirola had the iconic No. 43 Petty car running up front most of the day on Sunday. The car was probably not a threat to win, but it seemed a top-10 finish – huge under the new elimination-format rules in the Chase – was in the offing.

But while running in sixth place with fewer than 40 laps to go, the engine in the RPM Ford detonated.

Almirola’s guts detonated, as well. He said he was heartbroken.

But he was also optimistic.

“I knew this team was capable of that,” Almirola said. “We were coming off top-10s at Richmond and Atlanta and had momentum on our side. We know what we are capable of. We know we are capable of running in the top-10. Everyone else might not think so, the rest of the world thinks we are underdogs and we will gladly accept that tag but what we’ve shown today and the last two weeks is exactly what we are capable of. We don’t have anything to hang our heads about. We will go to Loudon with our heads held high and try to rebound from this.”

Could be. Trent Owens, in his second year on the 43 pit box, looks to be a big time crew chief and his driver can drive. They will need to win at new Hampshire in order to advance in the Chase and they probably won’t do that.

But, for the first time in a long time, RPM is showing signs of awkening.

Speaking of sleeping on the couch: NASCAR’s most closely watched couple ran afoul of each other at Chicagoland.

It happened with 10 laps to go when Danica Patrick and beau Ricky Stenhouse Jr. performed un-requested body work on each other’s Cup cars.

“I heard my spotter (Brandon Benesch) say that the 14 (Tony Stewart) was below me on track, and I didn’t know the 17 (Stenhouse) was there on the high side of the track,” Patrick said. “My spotter took the blame on that one. I just didn’t know Ricky was up there, and I obviously don’t want to hit his car or anyone else with 10 laps to go. I talked with Ricky afterward, and we’re fine. It’s just a tough deal. We finished 19th even with the damage, so it was a decent run.”

Thanks goodness for spotters. They come in handy at blame time.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, September 18 2014
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