Capping a wild, unpredictable day of racing, Brad Keselowski was dominant on two late race re-starts to power his way to victory at the Kroger on Track for the Cure 250 at Memphis Motorsports Park in a photo finish over Kyle Busch.
The race was marred by 14 cautions for a total of 72 laps. This is the sixth consecutive year that the Memphis race was ended under a green/white/checkered one-lap restart.
Keselowski, in the Delphi Chevrolet, quietly stayed in the top 10 for most of the day, as his more celebrated foes, such as Mike Bliss, Busch, and Carl Edwards, took turns running out front.
Keselowski, though, was the one to take advantage of the upheavals over the last 25 laps, taking the lead with a daring pass against Bliss on lap 240 to take over third, reeling in the flagging leaders on spent tires, and holding on for dear life as Busch pushed the eventual race winner to his absolute limits.
First was the daring move on Bliss:
“I felt like I could make a move on (the leaders),” he explained, “it was just a question of what move to make after I got the run on them.
“(Bliss) made a move and then gave me the spot. I thought it was pretty cool. We could have all gone down in the corner and wrecked, but once I got underneath him, he let me have it.”
Taking over first was a foregone conclusion.
“The two cars ahead of (Mike) didn’t have any tires, so it wasn’t real hard to get ahead of them.”
The late wrecks not only gave him the opportunity to keep fresh tires, it also gave the team an unexpected jump on the competition.
“I don’t know what it was about our deal,” he admitted, “but man, that thing would re-start!”
Coming out of turn four into the final backstretch, Keselowski was turned slightly sideways after a tap by Busch.
“I thought I was gonna wreck, to be honest,” he said in the post-race press conference. “I just caught it at the last minute and knew I was gonna have to run hard to the line. I couldn’t have beat him by more than two or three feet.”
Keselowski knew even before the final re-start who he was going to have to go through to salt away the victory: Kyle Busch.
“There’s only so much you can do to prevent (a loss),” he confided afterwards. “Kyle had a really good car. I watched it when I was behind him. I knew he was gonna be a force to be reckoned with; he’s a good driver, he’s got a great car, and he got to me. He did all he could do without wrecking me and ran me hard.
“It came down to making the right moves in traffic. I made some good moves, I made some bad moves, and at the end of the day it worked out.”
Crew chief Tony Eury told the assembled media that it was a struggle for his team all day.
“Our car wasn’t as good as it needed to be at the start of the race,” he began. “Then, we had our fender and hood smashed in and it got even worse after that. We didn’t give up. We kept on fighting, we kept on adjusting the car, trying to get the car to turn in the center.
“Then we went on that long green run there and some of the other guys stopped to put on tires, and I thought we (were) in trouble there for a minute. But the crashing wasn’t done; we ended up getting a caution and getting some tires on there, and I think that was the whole deal. Brad knew what he was doing and made the right moves.”
Keselowski took risks throughout, getting into the back of rookie Justin Allgaier, Bliss, and Edwards (which he later admitted to regretting).
“Today, I was very aggressive and put myself in a lot of those situations that led to contact,” Keselowski said. “Two of them led to spins. I didn’t do myself any favors by that. It’s not like I came out on top with that. I tore my car up and slowed it down. It wasn’t like that was what won me the race.”
He revealed the reason for his wild ride to the finish line:
“Got the Elvis trophy. I really wanted that trophy bad, just as bad as I wanted the ($75,000) Dash 4 Cash.”
The mold to the Elvis trophy will be broken, meaning that Keselowski won the last one that will ever be struck.
BK, as many on tour call him, also swept the inaugural Dash 4 Cash kitty, winning the maximum $150,000 being offered by Nationwide in an effort to stimulate interest in stand-alone races at Nashville, Kentucky, Iowa and Memphis.
Only racers who maintain a full schedule are eligible to win the Dash. Keselowski won $75,000 when he won the US Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway in August, and took home another $75,000 for the victory in Memphis.
BK crept to within 257 points of the points race leader (Kyle Busch) and earned his fourth victory and 26th Top 10 finish on the year.
Busch, driving the FedEx Toyota, finished second. Jason Leffler in the Great Clips Toyota was third, Mike Bliss (Ridemakerz Toyota) was fourth and rookie Brendan Gaughan drove the USfidelis Chevy to fifth.
By finishing ahead of Edwards (in the Save a Lot Ford), Busch stretched his points lead to a commanding 215 points with just three races (Texas Motor Speedway in Ft. Worth, Phoenix, and Homestead) remaining.
The pole-sitter, Allgaier, finished 19th.
Photo credit: Copyright 2009, Leroy Watson, Jr.