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.”