With several cars crashing behind him, Brad Keselowski kept his foot hard on the throttle and scored the victory in Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway.
Keselowski had the lead going into the final lap, with teammates Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano in two. Blaney would be shuffled out going into turn one, moving Logano, the defending race winner, moving to second and Jimmie Johnson to third.
As the field thundered down the backstretch, defending Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch had a big run to the inside of Johnson. Kyle Larson moved up to try to push Johnson forward, but instead the contact turned the 48 into the outside wall, triggering a multi-car crash that gathered up Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, and Kasey Kahne.
Meanwhile, Keselowski held off Logano for the final half lap to score his first career win in the annual Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series pre-season exhibition race.
“It means a lot,” Keselowski said of the win. “I have never won anything here during Speedweeks and I feel like I have choked them away to be quite honest. You need one to break through. Hopefully this is our breakthrough.”
Keselowski had charged from dead last on the field to battle for the victory. He took the lead for the first time following the end of the first segment on lap 25, and would battle with Elliott for the lead while Blaney, Martin Truex, Jr. and others battled behind.
Keselowski took the lead for the final time with 35 laps to go, and was never out of the top spot the rest of the way.
If there was any doubt in his win, it came in the form of a huge piece of plastic debris that appeared on the front of his No. 2 Ford with six laps to go. Fortunately, the debris only covered a small portion of the radiator opening, so overheating wasn’t an issue.
“I was worried about the run but the car was way overheating there at the end and I was more worried about it blowing up than anything else,” Keselowski said. “Doug Yates and his guys did a good job giving me something real durable to take all that and keep digging. I am really proud of the whole effort here. What a way to start Speedweeks, putting the Miller Lite Ford in Victory Lane. I am really proud of my team.”
In a race that is usually noted for its carnage, there were only two on-track shunts during the 75-lap event. The first came on lap 34 when contact between Kurt Busch and Jamie McMurray sent McMurray’s car spinning up into the turn 4 wall. McMurray’s team got the car back on track, but he would eventually park the car, finishing 17th in the end.
“I just got really loose,” McMurray said. “I haven’t seen a replay so I don’t know if it was circumstantial based on the car behind me or what happened, but I just drove in the corner and it just got out from underneath me and chased it and wasn’t able to catch it.”
The second incident saw Jimmie Johnson go from contending for the win to skidding to a stop, as the contact from Larson on the final lap left him with his seventh DNF in the Clash.
‘Yeah, I got turned,” Johnson said. “Larson and I were just talking about that in the Care Center. I need to go back and look at the video and see if he really did get me center and if that could have been a contributing factor to it. A lap before that, I think the No. 41 (Kurt Busch) got into me and pushed me pretty hard and everything was fine. So, in my head I cleared that concern and was looking out the windshield sitting in a great spot, but unfortunately didn’t make it back.”
For Larson, it was a second incident on the day, after he took a wild ride when his car got loose in the corner in the race’s first segment. As for the last lap incident, Larson shouldered the blame.
“Yeah, that’s the first time I’ve went to push somebody and I hit him pretty solid and just turned him into the wall,” he said. “I hate that I was the one that caused the wreck. I still haven’t seen a replay. Obviously, I know I’m the one that started that, but I’d just like to see if I did hit him as hard as I think I did, or what. Or if our bumpers just don’t line up as well with the new Camaros, or what. But, I hate that I was the one to do that.”
Logano finished in second, with Kurt Busch in third, Blaney in fourth and pole sitter Austin Dillon in fifth.
Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Kevin Harvick, and Larson rounded out the top ten.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Daytona International Speedway – Daytona Beach, FL
Advance Auto Parts Clash – February 11, 2018
1. (17) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 75.
2. (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 75.
3. (14) Kurt Busch, Ford, 75.
4. (15) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 75.
5. (1) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 75.
6. (2) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 75.
7. (13) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 75.
8. (4) Erik Jones, Toyota, 75.
9. (9) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 75.
10. (10) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 75.
11. (11) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 75.
12. (5) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 74.
13. (12) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 74.
14. (6) Martin Truex, Jr., Toyota, 74.
15. (7) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 74.
16. (8) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 73.
17. (16) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, Accident, 43.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 169.641 mph.
Time of Race: 1 Hrs, 06 Mins, 19 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.102 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 3 for 8 laps.
Lead Changes: 11 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: A. Dillon 1; D. Hamlin 2-9; C. Elliott 10-14; A. Dillon 15-16; C. Elliott 17-23; J. Logano 24; K. Larson 25; K. Harvick 26-27; B. Keselowski 28-33; C. Elliott 34-38; B. Keselowski 39-75.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): B. Keselowski 2 times for 43 laps; C. Elliott 3 times for 17 laps; D. Hamlin 1 time for 8 laps; A. Dillon 2 times for 3 laps; K. Harvick 1 time for 2 laps; K. Larson 2 times for 2 laps; J. Logano 1 time for 1 lap.