Brad Keselowski plans to go “island hopping” in the Daytona 500

Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski (Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Brad Keselowski has had plenty of superspeedway success. The Penske Racing driver has won five restrictor plate races in his career, four at Talladega, one at Daytona. The win at Daytona came last time the NASCAR Cup series was at Daytona last July.

While a win anywhere is great, to score a win in the Daytona 500 is perhaps the most prestigious superspeedway win of them all.

Talent plays a big part in Keselowski’s success, but so has a technique he has perfected.  It’s a move that he and his teammate at Penske Racing have been working on at the restrictor plate races.

“I think we got really tired of people saying that restrictor plate tracks were about luck,” Keselowski said Wednesday during the Daytona 500 media day at Daytona. “And the culture really changed for us when as a company, we decided this isn’t luck anymore, this is a concerted effort to put on your best moves, your best face, your best cars and quit saying it’s luck. As soon as we stopped saying that at Team Penske we had a lot more success I think it’s a lot more about culture than anything else.”

The move is basically side drafting, but something Keselowski calls “island hopping”.

“You always try to have a move in the bank, maybe two or three,” Keselowski said. “I think about it as ‘island hopping’ because I love history and love studying military history and World War II and how they island hopped to Japan.”

“That’s what the Toyota’s are forcing everyone to do. They have enough strength in numbers, enough quality cars that they can create strength by having multiple cars that feel like islands. So, the only way to beat them is to island hop. You have to take one island at a time, destroy it, move to the next one until you get to the main prize, which is first. And that takes a very specific set of tactics,\.”

“We’re not the first ones to do it, tactics have existed for a while,” he added. “You have to do everything just right. You have to have a good horse underneath you. You have to have good people working with you. Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano worked with us in the Clash to do it. I feel with the same set of circumstances we’ll be there again.”

Teammate Logano gave props to Keselowski.

“I wish it was easy,” Logano said. “It took us the whole race to figure out how to do it—we almost ran out of time. The side-draft is huge, like it’s always been. Brad is probably the best at doing that leapfrog or what he calls the ‘island hopping,’ whatever you want to call it, and we were able to pull them apart and get in a hole and pull another one apart and get in the hole.

“He’s really good at that, probably better than anybody at it, so he was the right guy at the right time. It was the perfect storm. I feel like my strength is being a very aggressive, strong pusher and able to use runs quick. He’s able to be very strategic on where he gets behind cars and being able to pull them apart, so as a team we’re able to use our strengths together and that’s what pulled everyone apart, along with Harvick behind us keeping us all together as best he could.”

It can be a risky move however as Keselowski found out in last Sunday’s Clash. On the final lap while racing for the win, Keselowski tried the move, and ended up crashing, taking out Denny Hamlin in the process.

“Everything on a plate track is risky, right?”  Keselowski said. “That’s what is part of what makes it so much fun to watch and be a part of. Moves are going to work a low percentage of the time. That’s what makes it compelling. If every move worked it wouldn’t be fun to watch. I don’t know if I would label it as dangerous when somebody mis-times a block, that can happen no matter what your tactic is. I feel pretty good about it.”

Greg Engle
About Greg Engle 7421 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.