Pockrass: Brad Keselowski rules Daytona

1:00 AM ET

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Brad Keselowski‘s first Sprint Cup victory came in 2009 at Talladega. And it came in dramatic fashion when he rammed into Carl Edwards as Edwards tried to block him.

It was a huge upset in winning a race for car owner James Finch. But that win certainly had controversy, whether Keselowski could have or should have avoided the contact.

At the time, Keselowski ranked as a top prospect, but few could predict he would have 20 wins in 250 starts. Some of those wins have come with drama, others more with the focus on Keselowski.

Oreovicz: The up and the down Chase hopefuls at Daytona

With the Sprint Cup season moving closer to the playoffs with every race, Saturday night at Daytona was good for some drivers trying to make the Chase — and not so good for others.

  • Keselowski finally collects 1st Daytona victory

    Brad Keselowski finally won at Daytona International Speedway and, in the process, earned Team Penske its 100th victory.

  • Win No. 20 on Saturday night came at a track where Keselowski had never won, the most famous one on the circuit. He led 115 of the 161 laps to capture the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

    Keselowski had won four restrictor-plate races in his career but none at the place that even non-race fans know about.

    “It’s been a kick in the you-know-what,” Keselowski said about not winning at Daytona. “I got down on myself here. We came down here for the 500 and quite honestly we ran like dog crap, but my team worked on it. I didn’t give up on them.

    “I believe in my team and my team believes in me and we went to work and we put together a better car.”

    Prior to Saturday night, Keselowski hadn’t even been close to winning at Daytona. He had just two top-5s in 14 starts at Daytona. His average finish was 22nd, and he had only one top-15 finish in his past six starts at the track. He had led only one lap in the past four Daytona races and had led 38 laps at the track in his entire Sprint Cup career.

    Adding his Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series starts at the track, Keselowski was 0-for-30.

    “I’ve had very, very little success here,” Keselowski said. “It’s been one of our worst tracks next to Sonoma. Thinking about that, I don’t think we had the highest of expectations.

    “But Daytona is always a big race to have success at. I know maybe it doesn’t feel the same way that it isn’t the 500, but it is still a big deal to me. My family has been coming here for a long time, and I’ve had zero success here.”

    This victory, more than the one at Talladega earlier this year, when the focus was on cars going airborne, centered more on Keselowski. The Team Penske driver, though, couldn’t avoid a win without some drama as his teammate, Joey Logano, turned Kurt Busch, who was running third at the time and had one of the best cars to challenge Keselowski.

    It was appropriate, though, that it did have drama. The way Keselowski and Logano have operated, they remain almost on an island when it comes to friends. That’s OK. They have combined for 22 wins in the past 89 races.

    “I wouldn’t trade these two drivers for anyone,” said team owner Roger Penske, who celebrated his 100th Sprint Cup win as an owner. “They’re young, they’re aggressive, they win races. They work well with the sponsors, and they’re high-integrity guys, so move on from there.”

    Of the two, Keselowski delivered Penske his first Cup championship in 2012. But it was Logano who gave Penske his most recent Daytona 500 win by capturing the sport’s biggest race last year.

    Keselowski looked fairly invincible Saturday. He led 46 of the final 57 laps, with Kyle Busch winning the other 11. The final two laps came on a green-white-checkered finish with Kurt Busch maybe the best challenger before he got turned by Logano.

    “I don’t know where Logano wanted to go,” Busch said. “He was going to go from fifth to first? There’s not a chance that he had to win it. We positioned ourselves to be the car to get a run off the bottom. And it just didn’t work out with him trying to drive straight through us.”

    Logano indicated it wasn’t on purpose.

    “I hate that I got into Kurt there at the end racing to the line,” Logano said. “I had a run to turn up underneath him, and when you do that, the cars get free and then I was there and he tried to catch it and I was there again. It is a product of this racing, but I hate that it happened.”

    The product of restrictor-plate racing is big wrecks, where the key is to run up front or in the rear to avoid them. The “big one” happened on lap 90 with 22 cars involved but no injuries.

    Keselowski was way out in front, and few had cars capable of challenging him after the big wreck.

    “It seemed if we could have got the [No.] 2 car [of Keselowski] out of there, it probably would have been a decent race, but that thing was just so strong that there wasn’t much passing him,” said Kyle Busch, who finished second with Trevor Bayne, Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounding out the top five.

    “Really it took a lot of guys ganging up and getting together in order to make a move on him,” Busch added. “He was pretty smart about where he positioned his car on the racetrack, and I could see that, and I tried to do some of those same things, but man, it just never really worked for me as good as he could handle it.”

    Busch’s comments about Keselowski would not be a surprising analysis of a Keselowski race at Talladega. But Daytona? He hasn’t been as good at the sister track to Talladega.

    Until now.

    “We’ve been really strong at Talladega, and we’ve used a lot of that approach coming here — and it’s been awful,” Keselowski said. “This is quite honestly the first time as a team that we’ve come to Daytona with a completely different approach than what we’ve had at Talladega, and it paid off with immediate results.”

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