by Matt Taliaferro
A broken ankle, a one hour and 40 minute rain delay and a gamble that laid not only his race, but his season, on the line. Brad Keselowski faced all three in Sunday’s Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono Raceway and bested each challenge, holding off Kyle Busch in a 16-lap sprint to the finish en route to his second NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the season.
The victory also made him — at least for the time being — a favorite to capture one of the two “wild card” spots in NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship.
However, the wild card situation will sort itself out over the next five weeks. The story on a soggy Sunday in the Pocono Moutains was Keselowski’s perseverance, as the 27-year old Michigan native gutted out the pain of a broken ankle, in an injury sustained in a practice crash at Road Atlanta just four days prior.
“Everything kind of came together here, and we were able to overcome adversity,” Keselowski said. “I think when we look back at this years from now, I think that’s what I’ll think about, overcoming adversity.
“This was an ‘earn-it’ weekend. And I’ve always wanted to win a Cup race and earn it, not (due to) fuel mileage, not (at) Talladega — a real win. And today feels like that.”
Keselowski’s two-car Penske Racing operation decided to make a critical gamble on the weather at the event’s mid-way point. With rain bearing down on the 2.5-mile speedway and a red flag condition imminent, Keselowski and teammate Kurt Busch pitted prior to the race stoppage.
After sitting through the 100-minute red flag — all the while wondering whether the track could be dried in time to restart the event — the duo rolled back onto the track as the last two cars on the lead lap. However, when the field pitted for fuel and tires before the race went green again, Keselowski and Busch inherited the front row.
It was the track position each sorely needed, and real estate they would not surrender over the final 68 laps.
“The biggest thing was getting the track position,” crew chief Paul Wolfe said. “I remember Brad coming on the radio at one point and just asking for some track position. And he thought we’d be OK.
“My engineers, they seemed like they were pretty confident that we were going to go back green. So at that point I know it’s going to take calls like that to get us in the Chase.”
Keselowski still had one challenge left: Hold off the Cup Series’ restart king, Kyle Busch, when the field went back to green with only 16 laps remaining. He did so flawlessly, and hit every mark over the proceeding 15 circuits, pulling away for a .791-second win.
Busch held on for second, followed by Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Ryan Newman.
Kurt Busch and Johnson exchanged on-track blows during the final two laps after a racy exchange for third. They then took the matter to pit road, where a heated discussion ensued.
“Man, I worked (Busch) over for 10 or 15 laps and had the opportunity to screw him up and had the opportunity to run into him and never did it,” Johnson said. “Then, off of (Turn) 2 he claims I turned down on him, and I don’t have a clue. He ran over me on the corner exit and that’s where it all started.”
Said Busch: “We were racing hard. I think that’s what we saw on TV and exactly that’s what should be reported. There are a lot of times when the No. 22 (Busch) is on the short end of the stick of the No. 48 (Johnson). And I raced him hard. I’m glad I did — I have no regrets in it.”