Unconventional strategy propels Brad Keselowski to third-place finish

SONOMA, CA - JUNE 25: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Freightliner Elite Support Ford, races during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 25, 2017 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

SONOMA, Calif. – No one has ever accused Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski and his No. 2 team of following conventional wisdom when it comes to race strategy.

Even with crew chief Paul Wolfe missing Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 to be with his wife for the birth of their second child, substitute pit boss Brian Wilson took up the beat of a different drummer.

Keselowski came to pit road under caution on Lap 52 at the end of the race’s second stage. He restarted 23rd behind 21 cars who opted not to pit and behind Jimmie Johnson, who restarted 22nd. As other cars began a long cycle of green-flag stops, Keselowski stayed out.

The laps wore on, and still Keselowski stayed out, eventually inheriting the lead when Jamie McMurray came to pit road on Lap 72. Ultimately, Keselowski’s Ford was the last car on the track that hadn’t made a stop, and his lead reached 10 seconds.

Eventual race winner Kevin Harvick pitted one lap before McMurray, and when he returned to the track, Harvick, on fresh tires, rapidly ate into Keselowski’s advantage, passing the No. 2 Ford Fusion for the lead on Lap 89. Keselowski stayed out for four more laps before pitting for fuel and tires.

Over the final 26 laps, Keselowski, now with a tire advantage, charged through the field. He was closing on second-place Clint Bowyer when a caution froze the field on the final lap.

Keselowski’s strategy almost worked. All he needed was a caution in the late going to use his tire advantage. But, uncharacteristically at Sonoma, the caution didn’t materialize until the outcome was decided.

“It was fun,” Keselowski said. “We had a really fast Elite Support Freightliner Ford, and, man, when you have a car that great, you really enjoy every moment of it, and today was a day I really enjoyed.”

And for those who questioned the No. 2 team’s strategy, the proof was in the finish.

“Yeah, it looked like it was putting us behind, but we had such a great long run car that it played back out for us, which was great,” Keselowski said. “In fact, I think we were hoping to catch a yellow and didn’t catch it.

“If we would have, I think that would have been the race winning move.  But still, all in all, a great day for us.”

About Greg Engle 7420 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 Examiner.com 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.