No regrets: Brad Keselowski stands by costly late-race decision
The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion believes he did the right thing in trying to dislodge a piece of debris from his grille in the closing laps of Sunday's race at Pocono Raceway. But would he use the same method again?
Brad Keselowski finished second at Pocono Raceway on Sunday after leading the most laps.
Patrick Smith / Getty Images
By Jared Turner
Brad Keselowski had the best car in Sunday's race at Pocono Raceway but finished second following a late move that ultimately seemed ill-advised.
Able to reflect for a couple days on his decision to try remove a piece of debris from his grille by tapping the bumper of Danica Patrick's lapped car, Keselowski has no regrets about the strategy.
Keselowski does, however, regret how it unfolded: His No. 2 car slowing behind Patrick, only to miss its target and allow Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Chevrolet to blow by with five laps to go and take the win.
Keselowski, fearing that overheating from the debris on his grille would cause his engine to blow, had a plan and paid the price.
"With the information we had at the time, I felt like I made the right decision to try and do something -- I just didn't execute it," Keselowski said on Tuesday. "It's probably more frustration with not executing the move rather than taking the risk to make it, for me at least. But it's hard to speak for everyone. I'm sure everyone has different feelings about it. But it was the right move.
"I told somebody I felt like I was playing a game of blackjack and I was sitting on 15 and the dealer had a face card. If you play by the rules, you should take a card and you should hit, and we did, and we busted. The dealer turns over his card and he was sitting on 15, as well, and so you knew he was going to bust out. That's part of it. That's the cards we play, and some of racing is always going to be chance, and you have to play it by the odds, and I lost."
The loss was especially painful given Keselowski's dominance. Starting third, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion quickly moved to the front and went on to lead 95 of the race's 160 laps in his Team Penske Ford.
Keselowski understandably needed a little time to recover from the sting of falling short on a day when he had the speed to win
"I think each situation is a little different," he said. "I'm not going to say that I got over it right away because that's not the case. But for me knowledge is power, and getting over something like that is knowing what I could have done better or should have done differently, and researching those things and finding that answer, and I think that's where I find the ability to move on."
Keselowski had no intention of giving up the lead when he attempted to dislodge the debris from his grille. Neither did he believe his overheating car would make it to the finish. Both ultimately happened.
"You know, obviously if there hadn't been a car in front of me I wouldn't have made a move," Keselowski said. "It's not as though I let Dale go by me, which I think some people are under the impression that's what happened, and it's not. I just made a move on a slower car to try and take the opportunity I had, and it didn't work. That was kind of what happened.
"I didn't let Dale go and say, 'Hey, I'm going to try to cool off my engine.' I just didn't execute the move to try and clean it off, and Dale was close enough to get by me, especially with my engine starting to let go. You know, in that sense I don't feel like anyone would have done anything different."
Keselowski, of course, still owes much to Earnhardt Jr. in terms of career development. It was Earnhardt who gave Keselowski his first full-time Nationwide Series ride with JR Motorsports in 2008, a platform that Keselowski ultimately used to land a full-time Sprint Cup Series ride two years later with Team Penske.
Keselowski and Earnhardt, despite now competing for rival organizations, remain friends. Keselowski even still has a home on Earnhardt Jr.'s sprawling property near Mooresville, N.C.
"I think he knows that when he wins a race, if it's not going to be me or my teammate, that there's no one else I'd rather see win," said Keselowski, who left a congratulatory beer bottle on the Hendrick Motorsports driver's plane after Sunday's race. "I think that's something that he appreciates. I don't know if he feels the same way. A lot of that is for him to explain, but it is interesting. There is a bit of a rivalry, whether either of us want to acknowledge it or not, between the two companies, and I think it's sometimes been friendly and sometimes not been friendly, but that certainly puts us both in a unique position between a friendship and a competitor."
Despite some lingering disappointment from Pocono, Keselowski is shifting his focus to this weekend's race at Michigan International Speedway, a 2-mile venue that feels like home.
Keselowski, who hails from a couple hours up the road in Rochester, Mich., is winless in nine Sprint Cup Series starts at the Brooklyn track but claimed a Nationwide Series victory at MIS in 2009 while driving for JR Motorsports.
"I look at that race, flying in there and driving through the area and all the memories that pop up, there's deep, deep emotional ties to running there, and when you run well somewhere that you've had such emotional ties to, it just kind of really hits home in your stomach," Keselowski said. "It's hard to explain those feelings without achieving them. You can dream of what they feel like, and to some extent I have felt them by winning there at the Nationwide level. You know, it's one of the few moments I've had in my career where after I won a race I just had to sit down and be by myself just to kind of soak it all in.
"I remember that after I won a Nationwide race there, just literally locking myself in the bedroom of my motor home after the race and sitting at the edge of the bed and thinking about how awesome that was and what it meant to me and all those things, and that was a Nationwide race, that wasn't a Cup race. I can only imagine what it would mean to me at the Cup level. I can tell you it wouldn't be like any other win."