Keselowski Overcomes Sickness To Win At Atlanta; Becomes Winningest Penske Driverby Hunter Thomas February 24, 2019 0 comments
HAMPTON, Ga. – While fighting sickness throughout the weekend, Brad Keselowski held off hard charging Martin Truex Jr. in the final laps of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 to win at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Keselowski led the final 33 laps of the race in his Team Penske No. 2 AutoTrader Ford Mustang, but he didn’t cruise across the finish line. In the final laps of Sunday’s race, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. gained significant ground on Keselowski. Truex Jr. was able to reach Keselowski and battle for the win in the final three laps. Keselowski held on to claim the first-ever win for Ford Performance’s Mustang in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“I think first off, I’ve got to give a lot to credit to one, my wife, who’s standing in the back,” Keselowski said in Victory Lane. “She was sick just like I was, and she took great care of me along with everybody in the care center. I couldn’t be here today without them. So thank you. And Doug Yates (CEO of Roush Yates Engines), we ran over a piece of debris with, I don’t know, probably 50 laps to go and overheated really bad, and I thought there was no way this engine would make it to the end, but Doug Yates and his team, they do a great job.”
The win is Keselowski’s 28th victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but it was his 60th overall victory at Team Penske, making him the winningest driver to ever drive for the organization. Keselowski surpassed Mark Donohue who finished his career with 59 victories with Team Penske.
“I think any win means a lot, but that’s a big number,” Keselowski said. “Now I get to wear that yellow Mark Donohue helmet. (Matt) Yocum has been on me about it. Now I can, Matt, so here we go, we’re going to wear it next week. But what a tremendous honor. This day is ‑‑ wow, I don’t even know how to put it in words. I’m just excited for this team, first race with the new rules or whatever they’re called now, and to be able to win it, that’s really special, as well, and I know everybody here is excited about that, and just a great day overall for Team Penske and our Ford Mustang.”
Truex Jr. finished second in the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, but he wasn’t happy at all about how the lapped traffic raced him in the closing laps as he chased down Keselowski.
“Yeah, I’m a lot frustrated, you know – lapped cars,” Truex said. “They just have no respect for the leaders running for the win. It’s completely uncalled for, ridiculous. It’s a shame. We lined up on that last restart behind all those guys that are a lap down and I know they were racing for the lucky dog, which is all good, but once they got strung out, the 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) had a straightaway on all of me and he just wouldn’t let me by. He just kept hugging the bottom, hugging the bottom, hugging the bottom and knew that’s where I needed to run. I kept telling – my spotter kept telling his we need the bottom. These cars punch such a big hole and it’s so bad in dirty air, it completely killed us for 25, 30 laps to the point my front tires were gone once I finally got by him.
Truex continued and said, “Hell, I still ran down the 2 in two laps from half a straightaway. We clearly had the best car and were in position to win. Guys a lap down have to have a little more respect than that.”
Kurt Busch finished third, while Kevin Harvick finished fourth after leading 45 laps. Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-five. Completing the top-10 was Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, pole-sitter Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Daniel Suarez.
Sunday’s race was the first of the season for NASCAR’s new aero package. The event saw a lot of side-by-side racing, especially on restarts. There were 26 lead changes among nine drivers. Kyle Larson led the most as he was out in front of the field on seven occasions for 142 laps.
There were only five cautions for 30 laps. The first yellow flag was for a competition caution on lap 37. The following two cautions were for the conclusions of Stages 1 and 2. Kyle Busch dropped debris on the track to bring out the fourth caution on lap 223. The only accident throughout the 325-lap race occurred when Ryan Preece ran into the back of BJ McLeod on pit road. The accident brought out the final caution on lap 274.
Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin leads Harvick in the standings by eight points.
NASCAR will run a more complete new aero package at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 3. The new package is projected to produce even more side-by-side racing. The Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube will broadcast live on FOX and the Performance Racing Network (PRN) at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images