Darlington Raceway 500
Keselowski Earns Season-Best Third-Place Finish at Darlington Raceway
DARLINGTON, S.C. (May 7, 2011) – Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS), finished third in the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Saturday night. The finish represented his best result since joining Penske Racing late in the 2009 season and his first top-five result of the season. Keselowski has never finished outside the top-12 at Darlington.
After posting a lap of 27.460 seconds, or 179.082 miles per hour, during Friday’s qualifying session, Keselowski started the 367-lap race from the 10th position – his third top-12 start at Darlington in three career NSCS races. When the green flag waved to begin the event, Keselowski radioed that his Miller Lite Dodge was tight in almost every area of the racetrack, except entering Turn 3. While the condition continued throughout the run, Keselowski was able to move his line around and when he found one that his car liked, he began turning lap times faster than the cars immediately in front of him. A caution flag on lap 35, which replaced a “competition” caution that was scheduled for lap 40, allowed the Miller Lite team and crew chief Paul Wolfe an opportunity to make air pressure, track bar and wedge adjustments to help the car’s handling.
The multiple adjustments loosened up the Miller Lite machine at the start of the run, but the handling continued to get tighter as the laps progressed. On lap 75, under another yellow flag, Wolfe called for more wedge and air pressure adjustments and Keselowski restarted the race on lap 79 in the 18th position. Keselowski radioed that the entry to Turn 3 continued to be his best area of the track, but the car still lacked front grip. When coming to pit road for the third time on the evening, Keselowski made contact with the rear bumper of the No. 27 car driven by Paul Menard, slightly damaging the left front portion of the No. 2’s nose. The damage would be repaired on a later pit stop.
Known as the “Lady in Black” because of the black tire marks that are made when cars make contact with the outside wall, Darlington gave Keselowski his first “Stripe” on lap 165. He radioed that the car was running the tightest it had been all race and he began to lose track position, while he eventually found the race leader positioned right behind him. As Keselowski came down pit road for a green-flag pit stop on lap 176, he lost a lap to the front runners. However, Keselowski was able to keep the race leader in his sights as he kept himself in position for the “Lucky Dog” award back to lead-lap racing. After a long green-flag run, Keselowski picked up the free pass following a lap 221 caution flag.
What a crazy finish. A good team effort to get a solid finish out of a mediocre day.
Once back on the lead lap, Wolfe and the crew continued to work on the handling condition of the Miller Lite Dodge, while Keselowski did his job by steadily marching his way to the front of the field. While the car wasn’t quite as fast at the beginning of a run, it began to pick up time after the tires had an opportunity to “come in” after 10 laps. As the race moved past the 300th lap, Keselowski had raced his way back inside the top-10 as the team prepared for its final pit stop of the night, which came on lap 332.
In what proved to be the call of the race, Wolfe instructed his driver to remain on the track when the caution flag flew at lap 357 while most of the other competitors came in for four fresh Goodyear tires. Keselowski restarted the race from the second position, but was quickly passed by the No. 99 car of Carl Edwards – who had fresher tires – on the lap 363 restart. Another quick caution on lap 364 set up a “green-white-checkered” flag finish that would extend the race by three laps. When the green flag flew, Keselowski gave the race leader, Regan Smith, a big push into Turn 1 which allowed Smith to clear Edwards going down the backstretch and onto his first career victory. Keselowski battled hard with the No. 4 car driven Kasey Kahne over the final two laps to secure the third-place finish. After taking the checkered flag, Keselowski visited Victory Lane to welcome Smith into the club of NASCAR Cup Series winners.
Penske Racing teammate, Kurt Busch, finished 27th Saturday in the Showtime Southern 500.
Following Saturday’s result, Keselowski and the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge team sit 26th in the Cup Series driver and owner point rankings.
“It was a nice comeback for this Miller Lite Dodge tonight,” said Keselowski. “We played the strategy card tonight. That was our only shot. It all worked out. We had a shot late in the race and that’s cool. The last restart, I was just trying to stay in my own lane and stay with Regan (Smith). What a crazy finish. A good team effort to get a solid finish out of a mediocre day.”
Keselowski and the No. 2 Miller Lite team will next compete at the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del. on Sunday, May 15.
-source: penske racing