E.A. Sports Today

Keselowski wins Dega

Race winner gets crucial push from unlikely source

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

TALLADEGA — Clint Bowyer looked over at Matt Kenseth after breaking down the finish of Sunday’s race to its most basic element and couldn’t resist saying what a lot of people in the room had to be thinking.

“You realize you pushed Brad Keselowski to the win?” Bowyer said with an impish twinkle in his eye. “Karma is a bitch.”

Or at least ironic. Last week in Charlotte, Kenseth had been pushed too far by Keselowski and their on-track aggression escalated into full-blown fisticuffs in the garage after the race. On Sunday, it was Kenseth who ultimately pushed Keselowski to Victory Lane.

Keselowski won the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on the second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish to land a spot in the next round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. If he didn’t win the race he would’ve been eliminated.

“It’s been a long couple of weeks,” Keselowski said. “There are probably some people who aren’t happy I won. People do some things they’re not proud of. I was not very proud of last week. I was very proud of today.”

“We had one job to do — come to Talladega and win, and we did. We treated this week like Homestead. If these guys can keep it up at this level, we’ve got a shot at it and I’m really, really thankful for that.”

The long and short of the Charlotte skirmish is both drivers made contact with their cars during the race and afterwards with each other in a row that involved several members of both teams. Keselowski was fined $50,000 and had the world against him in perhaps the biggest race of his career.

Team owner Roger Penske told him to put the incident in his rear view mirror and move on. But you can’t go around Talladega without checking the rear-view mirror and when Keselowski did at the most crucial point in the race, who did he see in it — Kenseth.

The restart followed the third caution in the final 18 laps and was created when Greg Biffle got into the back of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and ruined Junior’s fading chances to advance.

Kenseth, who qualified 13th but started from the back because he changed engines, finished second. Bowyer was third.

It wasn’t either driver’s intention to hook up with the other, but you’ve got to do what’s necessary. Keselowski lined up for the final restart on the outside to get a push from Joey Logano, who already was safely into the next round and had instructions to do everything he could to get his teammate to Victory Lane. Kenseth planned to push Kevin Harvick all the way to the finish, but when the endgame started developing he didn’t have enough speed to go anywhere else.

“When it comes down to the end of the race … you’ve kind of got to do what’s going to be best for your best finish,” Kenseth said. “You know who’s driving every car, you know who’s leading the race.”

Keselowski did get a nice push from Logano, but it was the boost he got from Kenseth while frantically trying to block every lane that challenged him that propelled him to his sixth win of the season. His margin of victory was 0.141 seconds.

“I didn’t feel uncomfortable in the least,” Keselowski said of hooking up with Kenseth. “I’m trying to manage all three lanes. It just so happened Matt was leading his and it had the best run at the end. I came down to block it and it was enough to seal our fate as a winner and his fate as second.

“I kind of laughed appreciating the irony. To me, it was funny how this racing world works out. I don’t know why, it seems like every week where there’s either a fight in the garage or a mishap or something like that happens that those two cars and people end up together. I don’t know why it happens, but I got a chuckle out of that.”

It wasn’t an easy win. Keselowski started 39th. He won with a damaged car, taking a hard shot from Jamie McMurray in the right door panel on Lap 60. On the first of the final three restarts, with about 10 laps to go he was 16th, which he said “felt like a death sentence,” but worked his way to second within the next three laps with help from Logano and Ryan Blaney.

With all that was on the line Sunday, it wasn’t certain what strategies the field would take. The drivers with the most at stake quickly moved to the front and stayed there all race, while those who appeared safe opted to ride around in the back.

That strategy didn’t work for Kyle Busch. He entered the weekend second in the standings and basically needed to finish 24th or better to advance, but he got caught up in a late-race melee that tore up the front end of his car. He did return to the track after a furious round of repairs to try to make up ground, but fell well short in the end. He finished 40th.

Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt and Kasey Kahne also were eliminated from Chase contention. Johnson led the most laps in the race (84).

The eight drivers who did advance are Logano, Harvick, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin, Keseth, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Keselowski. The top four at the end of the next three races (Martinsville, Texas, Phoenix) will vie for the series championship at Homestead. Newman could start this next segment at a disadvantage if NASCAR penalizes him for failing post-race inspection for having a rear that was too low on both sides.

“I wanted to enter the race feeling like I was playing with house money,” Johnson said. “I was given an opportunity to get back in the championship after two bad races. We tried our best. They gave me a good car. We played with house money and lost.”

And Keselowski was the big winner. How ironic.

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