Win Could Pay Off Big Time For Keselowski

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 25 2020

Brad Keselowski hung on to win Sunday’s 600-mile race in Charlotte, N.C.

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CONCORD, N.C. – Brad Keselowski’s long sought after victory in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway not only gave Ford its first win in stock car racing’s longest race since 2002, it may also have gotten the Michigan native a step closer to a new contract. 

Keselowski has driven for Team Penske since 2010, but this year he’s a free agent. Simon Pagenaud found himself in a similar situation last year with Team Penske until he gave owner Roger Penske his 18th Indianapolis 500 victory. Pagenaud, who also contended for the series title, received a contract extension. Keselowski hopes his victory Sunday in one of stock car racing’s crown jewels provides the same results for him. 

“I know winning never hurts,” Keselowski said after his first victory this season and the 31st of his career. “But it’s not all up to me. A lot of things have to come together, whether it’s sponsors or what-not, management things. That hasn’t happened yet. I hope it does because this is my 30th win at the Cup level with Team Penske. That’s pretty special. I think I got another 30 left in me. I’d like to have the chance at that.”

In addition to the Coca-Cola 600, other crown jewel races in the sport are the Daytona 500, Southern 500 at Darlington and the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. Keselowski noted he would add the Bristol night race to that list as well. Keselowski won the Bojangles Southern 500 and the Big Machine Vodka 400 at The Brickyard in 2018. His Bristol night race victory occurred in 2011. Now with this year’s win in the Coca-Cola 600 the only one missing from his list is the Daytona 500.

“This team has a lot of potential,” said Keselowski, who’s in his first year with the team that last year worked with Penske teammate Ryan Blaney. “My goodness, on pit road today, they were on fire. They put us in a spot to win. I hope that I get to take and make something of that for years to come.” 

Even though Keselowski led three times for 21 laps in the Memorial Day weekend classic, it appeared a win might slip from his grasp again this year. With nine laps remaining in the scheduled 400-lap race, Keselowski trailed leader Chase Elliott by 1.979 seconds. Elliott appeared headed for his first victory this season, but his golden opportunity disappeared with a lap and a half remaining. That’s when Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron cut a tire and spun in turn two. 

Elliott immediately found himself in a no-win, pit-or-no-pit situation. Whatever the decision, he knew his competitors would do the opposite. Crew chief Alan Gustafson made the decision to pit while eight of the front-running cars remained on the track. That left Keselowski first, Jimmie Johnson second and the race’s top lap leader, Alex Bowman (three times for 164 laps), in third. When the race restarted Elliott was 11th. His four fresh tires allowed him to charge to third before the checkered flag waved on the 405-lap race that was interrupted by rain for slightly more than an hour.

Johnson’s second-place finish was negated approximately two-hours after the race concluded due to his Chevrolet failing post-race inspection. Johnson, who led twice for six laps, was disqualified and moved to last place. That moved everyone in the rundown up one position, giving Elliott a second-finish.

“It’s very unfortunate,” a dejected Elliott said. “We’ve had some tough losses in my career. But it is what it is. Can’t help it. Those things happen.

“You must make the best decision you can based on the information you have. When you are leading the race like that, people behind you are going to do the exact opposite of what you do. I’ve watched a lot of races unfold that way. Just try again. That’s all you can do.” 

  The Cup Series returns to Charlotte Wednesday night for a much shorter, 500-kilometer race which is substituting for the June race originally scheduled for Sonoma Raceway. The Alsco Uniforms 500k is slated to begin at 8 p.m. on FS1. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, May 25 2020
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