NASCAR

Keselowski joins list of tough drivers

Watch highlights from a wet Sunday at Pocono.
Watch highlights from a wet Sunday at Pocono.
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Holly Cain

Holly Cain has covered racing in all its forms for 21 years, winning multiple awards from the Associated Press Sports Editors and Society of Professional Journalists for feature and news writing. She chronicled NASCAR Champion Rusty Wallace's final season, authoring a book called "Rusty's Last Call." Follow her on Twitter.

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His back sore, his broken left ankle swollen and throbbing with pain, Brad Keselowski gingerly pulled himself out of his Dodge on Sunday afternoon in Pocono Raceway's Victory Lane, only days after surviving a horrible, high-impact crash while testing at Road Atlanta.

RRudd

Ricky Rudd famously raced with his eyes taped after a crash at Daytona.

Motorsports Images and Archives

Relying on that winning adrenaline, Keselowski even managed to climb on top of his car to celebrate one of the most impressive NASCAR victories in recent memory and a very solid contribution to the sport’s ages-old legend of playing hurt.

In 1984, Ricky Rudd famously drove in the Daytona 500 with his eyelids taped open and a then-undiagnosed episode of vertigo stemming from a crash a few days earlier.

In 1999, Mark Martin’s crew had to pick him up and place him inside his race car on the starting grid. He raced with a broken wrist, knee and ribs.

Richard Petty once competed with a broken neck. Dale Earnhardt drove with a broken sternum and collarbone. Bobby Labonte raced with a broken shoulder blade. Carl Edwards drove with a broken foot.

“We were all tough because we had to be,’’ FOX Sports analyst and NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Darrell Waltrip told the Virginian-Pilot last year.

“Nobody wanted a whiny driver. Shut up. Get in there and drive.’’

Last season, Denny Hamlin won a race at Martinsville driving with a torn ACL in his left knee and then won a race at Texas three weeks after the surgery to repair it.

Keselowski’s performance Sunday ranks high even against these tough-guy standards.

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin cradles his knee as he climbs into his car just days after knee surgery in 2010.

Mark J. Rebilas

Six days earlier, Keselowski was in a high-speed, high-impact crash at Road Atlanta when his car’s brakes failed, sending him helplessly head-on into a wall that didn’t have the SAFER barrier. He was airlifted to a local hospital.

Looking at his mangled car and the destroyed track wall, it’s amazing he wasn’t more seriously injured.

From the hospital bed, the 27-year old sent the diagnosis — fractured ankle — via Twitter, along with photos of his ankle, swollen as big as a grapefruit.

His doctor actually drained fluid from the ankle during Sunday’s hour-plus red-flag race stoppage for rain. And by the end of the race, his hand was bleeding from three hours of shifting gears.

“I cut my hand open (from a blister) shifting because I didn’t get it taped because I forgot about that while worrying about my leg,’’ Keselowski joked after the race.

But, he insisted, “I woke up this morning feeling like we could win the race.

Keselowski crash gallery

Scary crash

Wonder what everyone is talking about concerning Brad Keselowski's scary crash at Road Atlanta? HERE'S THE SCOOP | PHOTOS

“At the end of the halfway break, I went into my motor home, had my doctor with me and he took care of me a little bit. Then I told him, ‘All right, let’s go win the race.’

“If you don’t feel that way, you’re never going to win at anything you do.’’

So while some may still question these drivers' athleticism, they can’t question their toughness.

“He’s a good driver and a great guy, and he’s not going to let his opportunities pass him by,’’ said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who once fielded a car for Keselowski in the Nationwide Series.

“He wants to drive every lap he can drive. I bet it was tough for him to not run the Nationwide race (Saturday night at Iowa), but that’s probably what made the difference today for him.’’

As a sore, but exuberant Keselowski left Pocono Raceway, a winner and a newly qualified Chase for the Sprint Cup contender, he offered one more tweet.

“Just getting out of track,’’ Keselowski wrote on Twitter. “Anything cool happen today?’’

Tagged: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski

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