ATLANTA WIN IS THE BEST MEDICINE FOR KESELOWSKI
Brad Keselowski nursed flu-like symptoms throughout Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, a stroke of good fortune and a a fast car gave Keselowski the best medicine: his first win of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
One day after having Austin Cindric fill in for him during practice, Keselowski went the distance in successful fashion. He battled for the lead with Team Penske teammate Joey Logano as the race wound down, but a loose wheel forced Logano – the defending series champion – to pit road and knocked him out of contention. Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 champion, made a spirited charge over the final four laps to nearly steal the victory away from Keselowski.
“It’s certainly a really big day for us and one that I’ll reflect on for a long time," Keselowski said. "All wins are special – there’s not a win that doesn’t mean something – but some wins mean more. This one means more for a number of reasons. … The win record for Team Penske, that’s certainly very special to me.
“Winning the first race whenever there’s a major rules change means something to me personally because when you look at the great drivers over the years, they were able to win in different disciplines. … I wouldn’t have made this race yesterday (due to the illness). Thankfully, the team in the care center helped me out. They gave me a couple IVs and got me as good as I could be for the race. My wife was the real hero out of everything, because she was just as sick as me and she was taking care of our daughter, playing mom, and taking care of me while sick herself. That’s mom power right there, so she’s the rock star as far as I’m concerned.”
The veteran driver and 2012 series champion held steady, taking Truex’s line away from him and maintaining a miniscule advantage. Keselowski’s lead held up over the final lap to ensure his second Atlanta win and the 28th triumph of his Cup Series career. By taking the checkered flag, Keselowski also passed Mark Donohue as the winningest driver in Team Penske history.
Sunday’s race marked the first for the new rules package in Monster Energy Cup Series competition. A 550-horsepower car featured larger splitters and spoilers as well as a tapered spacer designed to keep cars closer together. The event saw 26 lead changes over 325 laps – the most in three years and the second-most since 2012.
Truex wound up second to Keselowski by just .218 seconds with Kurt Busch third, defending race winner Kevin Harvick fourth and Clint Bowyer fifth. Kyle Busch finished sixth with Erik Jones seventh, Aric Almirola eighth and Chris Buescher ninth. Daniel Suarez rounded out the top 10.
“I thought it was fun. This place is awesome," Truex said. "It’s a badass track and you’ve got to really get up on the wheel and drive it. I had a lot of fun racing with (Ryan) Blaney and guys like that. It was awesome. The Bass Pro/Tracker Boats Toyota was good all day, we just caught an unlucky break there at the end with how that pit stop deal worked out (a Lap 274 caution which left all but two cars one lap down).”
Kyle Larson led a race-high 142 laps before finishing 12th behind Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. A pit-road speeding penalty with 100 laps to go cost Larson in his bid to snap a 48-race winless streak. Logano finished 23rd.