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Keselowski: Southern 500 Victory ‘Biggest Ever’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 3 2018

Brad Keselowski became a winner again Saturday night in Darlington. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Brad Keselowski entered Darlington Raceway a frustrated driver, winless on the season and plagued throughout the year with inconsistencies. He left with a weekend sweep, a victory in NASCAR’s oldest speedway race, and an emotional boost for the playoffs.

 “It’s probably the biggest win of my career, especially with it being a weekend sweep at one of the toughest tracks on the circuit,” a jubilant Keselowski said. “It’s pretty damned cool. To win here and to win wearing Rusty’s (Wallace) colors and driving his car, I kind of feel like I’m in a dream from when I was 10 years old.”

Keselowski opened the weekend with a victory in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. He then wooed the Lady in Black on Sunday for a Bojangles Southern 500 win in a Ford bearing the black and gold Miller Genuine Draft paint scheme Wallace made famous. That made it an emotional victory for everyone associated with Penske, which hadn’t won at the historic 1.366-mile track since 1975. That year Bobby Allison piloted an American Motors Matador into victory lane for Penske. However, Darlington had been the organization’s Achilles Heel ever since. Wallace finished third in the race in 1993 and ’95, but that was the closest Penske had come to winning the prestigious event.

“It’s been a long dry spell,” Team Penske Vice Chairman Walt Czarnecki said. “To win here tonight after 43 years is really special. We’re approaching our 500th overall win, and this was win No. 498.  This would have been a great spot to get No. 500.  But I can tell you I’ve been in touch with Roger (Penske).  He was in Portland today for the IndyCar race, was in transit back, and he’s about as excited as he can be.

“I think it’s really been a boost for everybody. We know this team has been close.  They’ve almost won one or two races earlier in the year.  This could be a tipping point for us.” 

Keselowski’s first victory of 2018 made him the 10th different winner this year and came on the threshold of the regular season’s conclusion. Next Sunday’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway marks the end of the regular season with only two positions remaining open in the 16-car playoff field. Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola secured berths in the playoffs with their 10th- and 14th-place finishes, respectively, in Sunday night’s race. That means four drivers have now made the playoffs via points.

Even though Keselowski had already secured a playoff berth on points, crew chief Paul Wolfe said Sunday’s victory couldn’t have come at a better time.

“It gets everyone’s confidence up to know that we can do this and get back to victory lane,” Wolfe said.  “I’m not going to say we were the best car tonight, but we were a top-five car, and like I told Brad before the race started, let’s work on this all night, and we’ll put ourselves in position at the end.  That’s exactly what we did.  The pit crew executed, and we put ourselves in position, and Brad did his job on the restart.

“I think tonight was a good confidence booster … and gave everyone a little motivation here as we get ready to go into the playoffs here in a couple weeks.”

Keselowski’s victory came in a race that was dominated by Kyle Larson, who led 284 of the 367 laps. Larson won both stages while the 34-year-old Keselowski placed fifth in Stage 1 and second in Stage 2. Keselowski ran in the top five throughout the final stage, but it was his pit stop during the sixth and final caution period that made the difference. Keselowski’s crew performed flawlessly and then he edged Larson for the lead exiting pit road.

“I just hit the perfect launch, and I probably gained four or five feet just by executing the launch out of the box, and I got right up beside him (Larson),” Keselowski said. “You’re looking at him, and then you’re looking at your tach, or whatever that electronic crap is. You’re looking at all of it, and you’re trying to maximize it to be perfect, and oh, I hope I wouldn’t be speeding. That was what I was saying as soon as I got to the line, I think I got him by half a foot, and you’re just waiting, oh, here comes the speeding penalty, here it comes, here it comes, and the second the spotter keys the radio for that first time, you like cringe, and then he said, ‘Okay, 19 to go.’  You’re like, man, that’s like waiting for your death sentence, and it didn’t come.  So I’m thankful for that.”

When the race restarted Keselowski executed another good launch, jumping ahead of the field. He was never challenged the rest of the way and led the final 22 laps to take a 1.224 victory over Penske teammate Joey Logano.   

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race – Bojangles’ Southern 500

Darlington Raceway

Darlington, South Carolina

Sunday, September 2, 2018 

               1. (13) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 367.

               2. (8) Joey Logano, Ford, 367.

               3. (2) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 367.

               4. (22) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 367.

               5. (11) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 367.

               6. (9) Kurt Busch, Ford, 367.

               7. (5) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 367.

               8. (7) Erik Jones, Toyota, 367.

               9. (31) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 367.

               10. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 367.

               11. (3) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 367.

               12. (25) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 367.

               13. (19) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 367.

               14. (12) Aric Almirola, Ford, 367.

               15. (21) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 367.

               16. (18) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 367.

               17. (14) Paul Menard, Ford, 366.

               18. (23) David Ragan, Ford, 366.

               19. (6) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 366.

               20. (26) Michael McDowell, Ford, 365.

               21. (28) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 365.

               22. (24) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 365.

               23. (4) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 365.

               24. (29) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 364.

               25. (15) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 364.

               26. (27) Bubba Wallace #, Chevrolet, 363.

               27. (34) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 360.

               28. (33) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 360.

               29. (16) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 358.

               30. (35) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 357.

               31. (32) * JJ Yeley(i), Chevrolet, 350.

               32. (37) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 347.

               33. (38) * Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 346.

               34. (40) * Jeffrey Earnhardt, Toyota, 344.

               35. (10) William Byron #, Chevrolet, Engine, 329.

               36. (17) Clint Bowyer, Ford, Accident, 309.

               37. (36) * Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, Engine, 268.

               38. (30) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, Rear End, 254.

               39. (20) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, Oil Pump, 227.

               40. (39) Joey Gase(i), Toyota, Accident, 120.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  131.408 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 48 Mins, 54 Secs. Margin of Victory:  1.224 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  6 for 35 laps.

Lead Changes:  7 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   D. Hamlin 1-11; K. Larson 12-129; M. Truex Jr. 130-159; K. Larson 160-258; B. Keselowski 259-260; J. Logano 261-278; K. Larson 279-345; B. Keselowski 346-367.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  K. Larson 3 times for 284 laps; M. Truex Jr. 1 time for 30 laps; B. Keselowski 2 times for 24 laps; J. Logano 1 time for 18 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 11 laps.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 42,20,78,22,2,4,11,41,18,9

Stage #2 Top Ten: 42,2,22,9,20,41,31,18,1,4

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, September 3 2018
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