Brad Keselowski Goes From Worst To First To Win Clash
Brad Keselowski called his own number in Sunday's Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway before he ever climbed into his No. 2 Ford, proclaiming on Twitter "I believe that we will win" despite starting in the rear of the field.
After 75 laps, Keselowski's prediction proved true, as he went from worst to first in the traditional season-opening non-points-paying event - outrunning his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano to the finish line to win the Clash for the first time in his career.
"This year we got last [in the draw] so we said this will be the year we win it and sure enough, here we are," said Keselowski. "It's a great way to start the season."
Kurt Busch finished third, followed closely by Ryan Blaney while Austin Dillon was a distant fifth after dodging a six-car pileup that broke out mid-pack on the final lap.
Keselowski led 43 laps including the final 37 - much of it with a huge piece of paper debris on the front his Ford that threatened to end his day early.
"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," said Keselowski. "(Engine builder) 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."
"It means a lot. 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.
"I hope I can repeat this in seven days in the DAYTONA 500."
Keselowski drew the 17th and final starting spot in Saturday night's random draw and started tail-end-Charlie behind the front row of Austin Dillon and Denny Hamlin and wasted little time fight his way through the field - moving up to sixth place within the first 10 laps.
Up front, Chase Elliott worked the side draft to perfection to make his way to the lead setting up a battle between himself and Dillon for the top spot over the opening 25-lap segment. With five laps to go, Logano powered to the front as teams began shirt-pitting before the segment-ending caution.
Kevin Harvick was scored as the winner of the opening segment, and after pit stops cycled around it was Keselowski out in front to lead the field back under green ahead of Elliott.
Three laps into the second segment, Jamie McMurray got loose off a tap from Kurt Busch and spun in turn four, bringing out the caution.
On the restart, Keselowski managed to edge out Elliott with a push from Truex, Jr. to hold the top spot with Blaney following behind in third while Logano moved around Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick to move up to fourth.
Just two laps later, Truex ducked to the low side and briefly nosed ahead Keselowski before being freight-trained by Team Penske trifecta of Keselowski, Blaney and Logano as the three surged ahead leaving Truex to fall back in line in the middle of the three Joe Gibbs Racing entries.
Over the next 33 laps, the top five remained virtually unchanged as the top 14 cars lined up nose to tail with the three Team Penske cars still out front followed by Johnson and Busch.
Finally, on the white-flag lap, Blaney stepped out of line to the inside to challenge his teammate for the lead but was left hung out to dry with no drafting help. Kurt Busch took advantage and moved around Johnson to take fourth as Larson moved up looking to bump his way into the top five.
Coming through the backstretch, Johnson got turned off a bump from Larson that sent him spinning into the outside wall, collecting Larson, Kyle Busch, Elliott, Kasey Kahne and Truex, Jr. - giving Johnson his seventh-straight DNF in the Clash.
Up at the front of the field, NASCAR held off the caution flag long enough for the leaders to race for the checkered flag, with Keselowski holding off Logano by a car-length at the stripe.
Logano, who finished first in last year's Clash, waited until the last second to decide to try and make a move for the lead, but ultimately held his position to try and fend off Johnson.
"Everything has to time out just right. You are waiting to see what everyone else is going to do and you are thinking about the type of people they are and what the possible moves are they will make. Then as soon as we hit the white flag Blaney was able to go to the bottom, I had to stay on top because I would have gotten passed by the 48. I thought I would get a good push on the backstretch. The 41 had a hell of a run. Then they wadded them up."
Blaney - running his first event behind the wheel of the new third entry for Team Penske - made a move hoping for help from his teammate Joey Logano, but didn't find any, yet still managed to get back in line to finish fourth in what he considered a very good learning experience.
"I was just really trying to time the run and that is what I was messing with Joey (Logano) behind me. I thought we were in a good spot," said Blaney. "Even though Brad is one of the best at doing this, I thought we had a good chance at it. We had a decent run through the tri-oval and I probably didn't pull out at a very good time. I thought it was enough but I got hung out. I should know better than that. I need to learn from that. I think we learned a bunch for next week. I hope we can apply it."
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