NASCAR

Brian Keselowski's Daytona run ends in early wreck

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP)

Brian Keselowski couldn't rely on his kid brother for help when a huge pileup sent cars spinning all over the track early in the Daytona 500.

That's OK. Brian already felt like a winner.

Keselowski was the biggest surprise to make NASCAR's season-opening event, racing into the field with a 5-year-old, unsponsored machine - and, most important, a big push from his sibling, budding star Brad Keselowski.

It ended on lap 29 Sunday, when Brian was taken out in a crash that also involved defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and two of his Hendrick Motorsports teammates, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin. In all, 14 cars were caught up in the melee.

Keselowski was just an afterthought considering all the big names that went behind the wall.

He had no complaints.

''It's not the way we wanted it to end, but it's been a great week,'' the 29-year-old Keselowski said. ''I'm just so thankful to everyone that has helped out.''

No one helped more than Brad, who got behind his older brother and pushed him to a fifth-place finish in one of the 150-mile qualifying races, good enough for his first appearance in NASCAR's biggest race.

''We really hoped for the best, but realistically didn't think we had much of a shot at it,'' said Brian Keselowski, referring to his chances of just making the race. ''When Brad got behind me in the 150, it was just all over from there. We were going so far forward, I didn't think it was ever going to stop. It was a great weekend. It really was.''

Brian prepared his No. 92 Dodge with help from his father, Bob, the 1989 ARCA champion. They recruited Brian's uncle to help at Daytona and got some last-minute funding from Discount Tire. Still, they faced huge odds getting into a race filled with big-money operations such as Brad's powerhouse team, Penske Racing.

That's when little brother stepped in to help.

Taking advantage of a repaved track that made it possible for two cars to run much faster bunched together than on their own, Brad shoved his brother right past Sprint Cup stars Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray. In the final few laps, the Keselowskis were running right up there with the leaders.

Brian crossed the finish line less than a second behind Jeff Burton, who won the qualifying race.

There was a big family celebration on pit road, Brad giving a hug to the big brother he wasn't always close to. There was plenty of sibling rivalry growing up. Brad always wanted to tag along with Brian, who didn't want to be a baby-sitter. Then Brad, who is about 2 years younger, landed a coveted ride with Penske. His brother was admittedly jealous, feeling he was deserving of a similar chance that never came.

Now, they're tight as can be.

Brian just hopes Daytona isn't a one-off. The rest of the season, beginning with next week's race at Phoenix, he'll have to get into the field on pure speed. Then he'll have to show he can last more than 29 laps.

''I sure hope to go to Phoenix,'' he said. ''But I want to go competitively. I want to make the show. I want to race all the laps. If I can't do that, then I won't go. We'll see where we are about Tuesday. We'll try to get the car together. If we're able to get the car together, then we'll go to Phoenix.''

At least he was assured of a big payday. Even finishing 41st in the 43-car field, Keselowski was assured of winning more than a quarter-million dollars - a huge bonus for his shoestring team.

''I think this can work out,'' he said. ''This was a great start. An unfortunate ending to a great start, but it was a great start at least. I think if we can keep the ball rolling, we can make some things happen.''

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