Keselowski Overcomes A Ton; Passes Donohue

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 25 2019
Brad Keselowski was one sick driver over the weekend in Atlanta. But after winning the Cup Series race there, he made sure he took in plenty of fluids. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

HAMPTON, Ga. – Neither flu-like symptoms, an overheating engine, or a hard charging Martin Truex Jr. could keep Brad Keselowski from becoming Team Penske’s all-time race winner in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Keselowski defeated Truex by 0.218 second to acquire his 60th career victory since joining Team Penske in 2010. His victory last fall at Las Vegas tied him with Mark Donohue for the honor. Donohue was the first driver Roger Penske hired after he decided to step from the cockpit and focus on his businesses. Donohue competed in sports cars, Indy Cars, IROC and Formula One as well as NASCAR for Penske.

“I think when you go back and know what Mark meant to our team as we were building it over time, it really set a mark that in some cases we thought nobody would ever beat, but Brad had that on his windshield,” Penske said. “He’s been looking at that now for a year, and he said this was the year he was going to make it happen.”

Keselowski has won 27 Cup and 33 Xfinity races for Team Penske. His 28th career Cup victory also was special for Ford as it was the first for the Mustang, which was introduced to NASCAR’s premier series this year. 

“I’m in a little bit of a daze,” said Keselowski, who was ill the entire weekend. “It was a long, tough race and trying to rewind it all in my head … and then think about what it means is a little difficult to do in the moment.”

Keselowski was too sick to practice his car Saturday.

“I wouldn’t have made this race yesterday, but, thankfully, the team here at the care center helped me out,” Keselowski said. “They pumped me with a couple IVs and got me as good as I could be for the race. I lost five-and-a-half, six pounds in less than 10 hours, and I was going the wrong way quick. Thankfully, it all turned around late yesterday afternoon.”

Early in Sunday’s race it didn’t appear that Keselowski would be a contender for the victory. He didn’t finish either of the first two stages in the top 10. He first appeared in the top 10 when he restarted sixth following the fourth caution period that ended on lap 228 of the 325-lap race.

The team was closing in on its final green-flag stop when suddenly Keselowski’s Ford began overheating. Crew chief Paul Wolfe cited a “tear-off or something” as the culprit that blocked off the car’s entire grille.

“We were going to pit within the next five laps, so fortunately, it was close to the window,” Wolfe said. “It wasn’t on there long, but when you take all the air away, it only takes a lap and you’re going to have your temps well over where they should be. I wasn’t excited to see us overheating because these engines have to be used multiple times now, and it’s very critical.”

Keselowski, as were many other cars, were on pit road when the fifth and final caution flag waved on lap 274 for a crash on pit road involving Ryan Preece and B.J. McLeod. Preece was exiting his pit and looked down at his tachometer to check his pit road speed just as McLeod was turning into his pit, eight stalls ahead of Preece’s. Preece slammed into McLeod’s car and McLeod spun into Chris Buescher’s pit stall, injuring that team’s gasman. A NASCAR spokesperson said the team member was “awake, alert and in stable condition” and was “being transported to the hospital for further evaluation.”

The incident left only Joey Logano and Kurt Busch on the lead lap. Keselowski was the first car a lap down, making him the beneficiary of the free pass. Once the other cars that had been trapped a lap down were given the wave around, that left Keselowski in third behind Logano and Busch, respectively, when the race restarted on lap 283. Busch took the lead for one lap, but then Logano regained it for the next nine. Keselowski, meanwhile, passed Busch and then challenged his Penske teammate. The 35-year-old Keselowski took the lead for the first time on lap 293 and held on to the No. 1 position for the final 33 laps, aware that Truex was chopping away at his advantage.

“I saw him coming with three to go,” Keselowski said. “I thought, ‘Uh-oh. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to hold him off.’ I’d gotten really, really tight off of turn two and almost hit the wall and I was pushing as hard as I could. I was kind of running out of ideas, to be honest.

“I need to see the replay, but I took one swipe at the bottom lane in (turns) one and two, and it looked like it maybe got Martin a little tight. I got just enough distance on him. I think another probably two or three laps, and I don’t know if I’d have been able to hold him off.”

An upset Truex said lapped cars held him up, and he needed only one more lap to take the lead.

“I could taste that one,” Truex said. “I really wanted that first Atlanta win. The 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) sat in front of us forever and ever running the bottom. He was holding me up really bad. Once I got around him I got to the (No.) 2 car (Keselowski) in two laps. I just needed one more (lap). I’m just a little upset. We had the best car. We probably should have won that one.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 25 2019
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