Brad Keselowski’s challenge to the rest of the Sprint Cup field: “I can beat you with a broken leg.”
And he did.
Staying out on the track on old tires under a caution with 21 laps left in Sunday’s rain-interrupted Good Sam RV 500 at Pocono Raceway, Keselowski pulled away from Kyle Busch after a restart on Lap 185 of 200 to secure his second victory of the season—despite driving with a broken left ankle.
Keselowski, who was injured in a hard crash during testing Wednesday at Road Atlanta, kept Busch at bay over the final 10 laps. With Sunday’s victory—the third of his career—Keselowski’s fortunes took a dramatic turn with respect to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Having cracked the top 20, Keselowski is in position to claim the first wild-card spot, being the only driver in positions 11-20 with more than one victory. Keselowski leaves Pocono 18th in the standings, having gained three positions Sunday.
Kyle Busch came home second, followed by Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman. Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Paul Menard completed the top 10.
Keselowski downplayed his gutsy effort.
“I no hero,” Keselowski said. “The heroes are the guys that died in Afghanistan this weekend. I want to spend time thinking about them. They’re my inspiration for this weekend, the things that those guys do.
“I’m glad that we could win today, but those are the heroes. I just drive racecars for a living.”
Kurt Busch, Keselowski’s teammate at Penske Racing, gave the driver of the No. 2 Dodge a little more credit than that.
“It’s amazing what the body can do,” Busch said. “For him to go through that wreck this week and get back on his horse right away and find success, that’s only going to make Brad Keselowski a better racer.”
Just past the halfway point of the race, rain began to fall, lightly at first and then in torrents. After the cars crossed the stripe on pit road to complete Lap 124, NASCAR stopped the race with polesitter Joey Logano in the lead, hoping the deluge would continue.
That didn’t happen. The rain abated, and the race resumed after a stoppage of 1 hour, 40 minutes, 46 seconds, dashing Logano’s hopes of claiming a second career victory the same way he got his first one (New Hampshire in June 2009)—with an assist from the elements.
Keselowski and Kurt Busch got to the front of the field with a contrarian strategy that brought them to the pits for fuel and tires right before the stoppage. When the cars ahead of them came to the pits under caution after the resumption, Keselowski and Busch were elevated to positions 1 and 2, respectively, for the restart on Lap 132. That turned the race around.
“Everybody’s getting more aggressive with their calls,” said Paul Wolfe, Keselowski’s crew chief. “My engineers seemed pretty confident that we were going to go back green. We know it’s going to take calls like that to get us in the Chase. I knew it was going to take a call like today to get another win to get us closer to that opportunity.”
“Just tell ’em, Paul, you’ve got balls this big,” Keselowski chimed in.
Before the lengthy red-flag period, Joe Gibbs Racing cars had dominated the race. Logano had set the pace for 39 laps. Denny Hamlin, a wizard at Pocono from the day he set eyes on the track as a rookie in 2006, had led a race-high 65 laps to that point, and Kyle Busch chipped in with six laps led for a team total of 110 of the first 124.
Immediately before the rain delay, Logano had withstood the persistent efforts of Johnson to pass him for the lead. But for the vagaries of nature, that could have been a battle for the win, and both drivers raced as if it were.
“We knew the rain was coming, and I was trying to hold off the 48 (Johnson),” Logano said. “I saw him coming—and coming pretty hard. My spotter said it was raining pretty hard in (Turn) 3, so I tried to hold him off through the Tunnel (Turn) there.
“It was pretty exciting there coming to the end, when my crew chief, Zippy (Greg Zipadelli), told me about five laps (before) the caution came out that the 48 was catching me, and the rain was coming. I just kept on digging, and finally it just started downpouring in (Turn 3).”
Neither Logano nor Hamlin was a factor at the end. Logano had to make an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 189 and finished 26th. Hamlin’s No. 11 crew had trouble with lug nuts on his right rear tire on his last pit stop, and Hamlin was buried in the pack on the restart and finished 15th.