Perseverance Pays Off With Top-15 Finish for Keselowski

May 13, 2012

DARLINGTON, S.C.  (May 12, 2012) – Brad Keselowski, driver of the Penske Racing No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS), finished 15th in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Saturday night. After spending much of the evening running two laps down due to early contact with the outside wall, Keselowski and the team battled back to salvage a lead-lap finish that could pay dividends later in the season.

Keselowski began the 367-lap event from the 15th position based on his qualifying lap of 27.500 seconds, or 178.822 miles per hour, around the egg-shaped, 1.33-mile oval during the Friday afternoon qualifying session.

As the race began, Keselowski quickly began to show the strength of his Miller Lite machine as he and the No. 14 car driven by Tony Stewart were the only cars to immediately pick up positions over the early laps. He radioed to crew chief Paul Wolfe that his car was handling slightly tight entering the Darling Raceway corners, and it demonstrated the same level of looseness on corner exit. Overall though, Keselowski was happy with the car’s performance around the tricky oval.

In what has become the norm during the 2012 season, the Bojangles’ Southern 500 featured a long, green-flag run to start the event that resulted in several pit stops under green. Wolfe called his driver down pit road for the first time at lap 47 for four tires, fuel and a slight air pressure adjustment while running in the 15th position. Following the cycle of pit stops, Keselowski found himself inside the top 10 for the first time. He radioed that the car felt great following the stops as he began to turn some of the fastest laps on the racetrack.

The racing groove around Darlington is unlike any other on the Cup Series circuit as drivers run just inches off the outside wall through the high-speed corners. At lap 64, Keselowski made significant contact with the wall in the center of Turns 3 and 4, which tightened the handling of the Miller Lite Dodge. The long, green-flag run meant Wolfe and the No. 2 crew had no opportunity to make the necessary repairs and, as a result, Keselowski began to free fall through the field. Air pressure and track bar adjustments were the only prescriptions the team could make to try and alleviate the tight-handling condition on the ailing Dodge. During a lap 98 pit stop, Keselowski lost one lap to the race leaders.

The first caution flag of the night came at lap 172, nearly halfway through the event. Wolfe called Keselowski down pit road twice for repairs to the right front fender and the rear decklid of the Miller Lite Dodge. With the repairs made, Keselowski restarted the race from the 30th position at lap 180, positioned two laps down to the leaders. He radioed that the repairs had a positive impact on the handling of the No. 2 machine, but he was running on the same lap with few other cars so he couldn’t make up any positions on the scoring pylon.

During a lap 297 caution period, Wolfe called for Keselowski to remain on the track to pick up a “wave around” pass that would earn the team one lap back. This strategy would only work if another caution flag came out quickly, giving the team the opportunity to make the pit stop they had just sacrificed. At lap 206, just three laps after the race resumed, that caution fell the way of the No. 2 team and Keselowski was able to come down pit road for four tires and fuel.

Running only one lap down, a determined Keselowski raced his way into position for the “Lucky Dog Award,” which he received when a caution flag was displayed at lap 331. This placed him back on the lead lap and in position to garner a solid finish. A final caution flag at lap 361 ensured that the race would finish under a “green-white-checkered” flag scenario. Keselowski was able to race his way into the 15th position as he took the checkered flag on a night that showed the strong mental makeup of everyone on the Miller Lite team.

Penske Racing teammate, AJ Allmendinger, finished 33rd in Saturday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500.

“I don’t know how we finished 15th,” said Keselowski. “I’m going to go watch a tape of that. I think we had a top 15 Miller Lite Dodge; I just tore it up early in the run. I got loose and hit the wall pretty good. (I) felt pretty lucky to get 15th out of the day. We kept working on it and had great strategy and between the two, we got a great run out of it. This is what great teams do, they rally from adversity and we were able to do it tonight.”  

Following Sunday’s event, Keselowski and the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge team are ranked 12th in the Sprint Cup Series driver point standings and 13th in the owner point rankings.

Keselowski and the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge team will next race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 19, in the Sprint All-Star Race – a non-points event. Coverage will be seen live beginning at 7:00 pm EST on SPEED. The race will also be heard on the Performance Racing Network and Sirius Satellite Radio Channel 90.