To say Brad Keselowski ‘flu’ into victory lane Sunday night isn’t a typo. After missing most of Saturday’s final practice and getting IV fluids while battling a stomach flu Saturday and Sunday morning, Keselowski took the lead on lap 293 of 325 and held off a hard charging Martin Truex Jr. to score his first win of the season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
It was the 28th win of his Cup career and his first since Las Vegas last September.
“Good enough to get the job done,” Keselowski said. “I think first off, I’ve got to give a lot to credit to one, my wife, who’s standing in the back. She was sick just like I was, and she took great care of me along with everybody in the care center. I couldn’t be here today without them. So thank you.”
Keselowski said he ran over a piece of debris with 50 laps to go and his Ford was overheating in the closing laps.
“I thought there was no way this engine would make it to the end,” he said. “But Doug Yates and his team, they do a great job. I’m pretty sure it’s all used up, Doug, but it’s in Victory Lane, so that’s okay, right?”
The win also gives him a total of 60 wins at Penske (237 Cup, 33 Xfinity) breaking a tie for the most victories at that organization with former Penske driver Mark Donohue.
“I think any win means a lot, but that’s a big number,” he said. “Now I get to wear that yellow Mark Donohue helmet. “
Ryan Preece and BJ McLeod got together in the pits and forced only the second “natural” caution of the race on lap 282. The caution came during a round of green flag stops that left only Joey Logano and Kurt Busch on the lead lap. The lineup was confusing with Logano and Busch able to keep their front row spots while Keselowski was able to pit and remain in third. NASCAR had called a penalty of Martin Truex Jr. for a crewmember over the wall too soon. A manual review by officials was unable to determine If there had been an actual penalty, but uncertainty remained until after the race when NASCAR finally explained that there had been no infraction.
After Keselowski took the lead from his Penske teammate Logano, Logano was forced to pit for a loose wheel. The other Penske driver Ryan Blaney, who had taken the lead on lap 230, was forced to pit with a vibration on lap 312 after leading 41 laps.
In the final 10 laps, Keselowski began to slow with his engine overheating and Truex was soon catching him. Keselowski was able to hold him off for the win however by .218 of a second. Truex in his just his second start with Joe Gibbs Racing had to settle for second.
“Unfortunate,” Truex said. “We had a great car… the guys did a great job. Just a little upset. We had the best car. We probably should have won that one.”
In just his second start for Chip Ganassi Racing, Kurt Busch finished third.
“To finish third in our second outing together and to run with the who’s who of the sport, it just shows Ganassi has got the right stuff,” Busch said.
Busch’s new CGR teammate Kyle Larson wasn’t as fortunate. He led a race high 142 laps and won both stages; but a pit road speeding penalty sent him to the back of the field and could only recover to finish 12th.
“Just one of those things,” Larson said. “I made a mistake. I knew it was going to be close. You flash some reds on your dash, you hope you come off pit road and they don’t say anything and half the time it works out in your favor, but today… I was just too fast and got in trouble.”
Kevin Harvick who dominated at Atlanta last season led 45 laps but faded in the end and had to settle for fourth.
“When we got the shadows in one and two and cooled off our car got way too tight and started chattering the right tire,” Harvick said. “We made it a lot better at the end though. Our Busch Beer Ford had a solid day though and we were able to adjust on the car and make it better throughout the day. We just got really tight in the middle of the race and we just ran out of time.”
Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five.
Kyle Busch, who was forced to start at the rear of the field in a backup car after a practice crash on Saturday rallied to finish sixth. Erik Jones, polesitter Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Daniel Suarez completed the top 10.
“We had a hell of a day,” Busch said. “We had a hell of a weekend. On the Cup side, we just had no fun this weekend, so it was really unfortunate for us. Guys worked hard and persevered and we battled through and took probably a 16th, 14th-place finish in our Camry and ended up sixth with it, so not too bad I guess.”
Sunday’s race was the first with NASCAR’s new higher downforce, lower horsepower package. While it did seem to produce some closer racing the jury may still be out on it.
“I mean the big spoiler just punches such a big hole and you lose downforce behind people,” Larson said. “I lost a lot of front grip once I went to the back. I felt like I could run really good through (Turns) 1 and 2 for a long time. I could never do that once I got in the traffic.”
The new package will get its second test in one week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“Trying to figure out the right scenario for this is going to be interesting,” Bowyer said. “You have to remember, this is a one off race. There is no track that we go to anymore that is as slick as this and as hard on tires. It will be interesting to see what Las Vegas brings.”
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
Atlanta Motor Speedway
Sunday, February 24, 2019
1. (19) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 325.
2. (9) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 325.
3. (8) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 325.
4. (18) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 325.
5. (3) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 325.
6. (6) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 325.
7. (15) Erik Jones, Toyota, 325.
8. (1) Aric Almirola, Ford, 325.
9. (30) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 325.
10. (5) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 325.
11. (4) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 325.
12. (7) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 325.
13. (13) Ryan Newman, Ford, 325.
14. (14) Paul Menard, Ford, 325.
15. (16) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 325.
16. (23) David Ragan, Ford, 325.
17. (17) William Byron, Chevrolet, 325.
18. (2) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 324.
19. (22) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 324.
20. (28) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 324.
21. (10) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 324.
22. (26) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 324.
23. (27) Joey Logano, Ford, 324.
24. (11) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 323.
25. (21) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 323.
26. (20) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 322.
27. (29) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 322.
28. (31) Matt Tifft #, Ford, 319.
29. (24) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 319.
30. (34) Parker Kligerman(i), Toyota, 318.
31. (32) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 313.
32. (37) BJ McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 313.
33. (36) Cody Ware #, Ford, 303.
34. (33) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 284.
35. (25) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, Accident, 271.
36. (35) Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 254.
37. (12) Michael McDowell, Ford, 222.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 142.626 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 30 Mins, 33 Secs. Margin of Victory: .218 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 5 for 30 laps.
Lead Changes: 26 among 9 drivers.
Lap Leaders: A. Almirola 0;R. Stenhouse Jr. 1;A. Almirola 2-37;K. Larson 38-87;M. Truex Jr. 88;K. Harvick 89-91;K. Larson 92;K. Harvick 93-111;K. Larson 112-125;K. Harvick 126;J. Logano 127-128;K. Larson 129-152;K. Harvick 153;K. Larson 154-161;K. Harvick 162-172;M. Truex Jr. 173;K. Harvick 174-177;K. Larson 178-220;M. Truex Jr. 221;K. Larson 222-223;M. Truex Jr. 224;K. Harvick 225-230;R. Blaney 231-271;J. Logano 272-282;K. Busch 283;J. Logano 284-292;B. Keselowski 293-325.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Larson 7 times for 142 laps; Kevin Harvick 7 times for 45 laps; Ryan Blaney 1 time for 41 laps; Aric Almirola 1 time for 36 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 33 laps; Joey Logano 3 times for 22 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 4 times for 4 laps; Kurt Busch 1 time for 1 lap; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 42,4,10,1,19,12,22,11,17,14
Stage #2 Top Ten: 4,42,19,12,11,22,1,20,18,14