(Courtesy: NASCAR Media)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For once, as he put it, Brad Keselowski didn’t “choke away” a chance at victory during Speedweeks at Daytona.
Just the opposite. Taking the lead on Lap 39 of the Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway, Keselowski held it the rest of the way to win the exhibition kick-off race to the 2018 season, leading Team Penske to a 1-2-4 finish.
And Keselowski, who led 41 of the 75 laps, took the checkered flag with a large piece of debris on the nose of his No. 2 Ford Fusion, with the water temperature in the engine rising to dangerous levels.
“I was worried about the run (of cars behind him), but the car was way overheating there at the end, and I was more worried about it blowing up than anything else,” Keselowski said. “(Engine builder) Doug Yates and his guys did a good job giving me something real durable to take all that and keep digging.
“I’m really proud of the whole effort here. What a way to start Speedweeks, putting the Miller Lite Ford in Victory Lane. I’m really proud of my team… I felt like we were due today.”
Keselowski has five victories at Talladega, but his only other superspeedway win came in the July 2016 race at Daytona. During February, the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion was batting .000, making Sunday’s start to Speedweeks a special occasion.
“It means a lot,” Keselowski said. “I’ve never won anything here during Speedweeks, and I feel like I’ve choked them away, to be quite honest. You need one to break through. Hopefully, this is our breakthrough.”
Last year’s Clash winner, Joey Logano, finished second to his teammate, with Kurt Busch running third and Team Penske newbie Ryan Blaney fourth—with Ford drivers sweeping the top four positions.
Austin Dillon, who started from the pole, came home fifth in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, avoiding a last-lap melee that started when contact from Kyle Larson’s Chevrolet turned Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 into the outside wall on the backstretch.
Johnson failed to finish the Clash for the seventh straight year.
After Keselowski grabbed the lead, the field gradually strung out to single file in the top lane, with smaller groups of cars unable to make significant runs on the bottom. On the final lap, however, Kurt Busch darted past Blaney, who had dropped to the inside in a last-ditch effort to win the race.
Behind the lead cars, Larson tagged Johnson and turned him into the wall, collecting the cars of Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and defending series champion Martin Truex Jr. in the wreck.
Kurt Busch, the defending Daytona 500 winner, was pleased with his third-place result and what it might portend for his defense in the Great American Race.
“Project number one was to do all the laps so that we could understand more about our tires and our setup and the way that the car was going to handle,” Busch said. “Then step number two was to have fun. I had a blast.
“I wanted to make another move on the last lap but ran out of steam because the guys behind me got too wide. I couldn’t jump in there and go after the Penske guys. It’s a good day for Ford and good day for us and Billy Scott, my new crew chief. Now we’ll go back and debrief about our car.”