DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Brad Keselowski put on a dominant performance  to capture his first victory in the annual pre-season Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona Int’l Speedway on Sunday.

Keselowski started last in the 17-car field after a random draw determined the starting order, but that didn’t hamper the 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion. He masterfully sliced and diced his way through the pack to get to the front and once there he proved to have the dominant car.

“We were joking after the drawing. Paul Wolfe usually does the drawings and he didn’t do it this year and we got last. I said, ‘Look, this will be the year that we win it.’ And sure enough here we are,” Keselowski said in victory lane. “It’s a great way to start the season with the Miller Lite Ford.”

Keselowski was able to work his way to the front in the first 25-lap segment of the 75-lap event and was the race leader when the race resumed with 46 laps left following the competition caution on lap 25.

He lost the lead on lap 34 moments before the caution flag waved for the first incident of the race when slight contact with Kurt Busch sent Jamie McMurray into the turn four wall.

When the race resumed with 37 laps left Keselowski quickly reasserted himself, wheeling his No. 2 Penske Ford back to the front of the field. Soon the field went single file, with Keselowski’s Team Penske teammates Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano lining up directly behind him in second and third.

Once the field got single file they stayed that way as laps slowly clicked off. Keselowski was still in the lead when the field took the white flag and it was then that the battles for position began.

Brad Keselowski (2) leads teammates Ryan Blaney (12) and Joey Logano (22) during the Advance Auto Parts Clash. (Doug Moulthrop Photo)

Blaney, who had been running second, got shuffled out of place by Logano, with Jimmie Johnson following through into third. The front trio stayed single file coming out of turn two and down the backstretch, but Kurt Busch got a big run and was able to move to the inside of Johnson.

While that was going on Kyle Busch got a run in the outside line and was able to give Kyle Larson a big push into Johnson. That push turned Johnson sideways and into the outside wall, collecting at least five other cars in the only big crash of the event.

All of that happened behind Keselowski, who easily cruised to the victory ahead of Logano, Kurt Busch, Blaney and polesitter Austin Dillon.

“I was worried about the run but the car was way overheating there at the end and I was more worried about it blowing up than anything else,” said Keselowski, who picked up a large piece of debris late in the race on his front grill. “Doug Yates and his guys did a good job giving me something real durable to take all that and keep digging. I am really proud of the whole effort here. What a way to start speedweeks, putting the Miller Lite Ford in victory lane. I am really proud of my team.”

Runner-up Logano, the 2017 Clash winner, said Sunday’s race allowed him to learn a great deal in advance of the season opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 18.

“I think handling definitely came into play there. A lot of cars slipping and sliding,” Logano said. “The moves are hard to make because they’re out of control out there. I’m amazed we didn’t crash more than we did.

“We learned a lot for the 500 and the Duels coming up. That was a big deal about today. It was probably the most important Clash that I’ve ever been a part of. I’m glad to see our cars handle good and have speed.”

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series won’t be back on track at Daytona Int’l Speedway until Thursday when drivers and teams race for starting positions in the Daytona 500 during the Can-Am Duel races.

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