HAMPTON, Ga. – Ever since tying the late Mark Donohue late last year, Brad Keselowski has wanted nothing more than to become the all-time wins leader for Team Penske.
Sunday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway, not even a bout with the flu could slow Keselowski down from accomplishing that feat and scoring a historic victory in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
Keselowski, who received two rounds of IV fluids before the start of the race, was patient and managed his tires to perfection during the closing stages. He didn’t even take the lead for the first time until 33 to go, when he passed Penske teammate Joey Logano for the top spot with an inside dive in turn four.
After that, the No. 2 Autotrader Ford Mustang was lights out en route to Keselowski’s 28th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win, second at Atlanta and 60th victory as a Penske driver.
“Man, it’s been a long day, but we were good enough to get the job done,” Keselowski said in victory lane. “First off, I’ve got to give a lot to credit to my wife (Paige), 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.
“Any win means a lot, but (60) is a big number. Now I finally get to wear that yellow Mark Donohue helmet. (Matt) Yocum has been on me about it,” Keselowski added. “Now I can, Matt, so here we go. We’re going to wear it next week. Just what a tremendous honor. This day … I don’t even know how to put it in words. It’s incredible.”
On a day when Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick looked to be the two who would duke things out at the end, leading a combined 187 of 325 laps, it was a caution with 53 laps left that shook up the deck.
Contact between Ryan Preece and B.J. McLeod on pit road led to fluid being dropped from Preece’s Chevrolet, which forced NASCAR officials to display the yellow flag in the middle of green-flag pit stops.
At the time of the caution, only three cars were on the lead lap, while Keselowski received the free pass.
Following pit service, a restart with 43 to go saw Logano and Kurt Busch lead the field from the front row, while Keselowski lurked close by in third before quickly dispatching Busch for the runner-up spot.
From there, it took the Michigan native less than five laps to run down his teammate before making the winning pass through turns three and four with a huge cut to the bottom of the race track.
Logano hung with Keselowski for a bit, but eventually was forced to pit road with a loose wheel at 20 to go, leaving Martin Truex Jr. in second as the lone contender to try and hunt down the 2012 champion.
Truex did just that, carving up a three-second deficit into mere car lengths by the time the white flag waved, but the New Jersey native came up just short and had to settle for second in the end.
After the race, Truex’s frustration came with lapped traffic that he felt cost him a shot at the win.
“It was just lapped cars,” said Truex. “It was a shame we got put in that position on that last restart, but that’s the way the caution fell. I’m really proud of the team; this is a great rebound after last weekend. They built a great race car and I could taste that one. I really wanted that first Atlanta win.
“The 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) rode there in front of us forever and ever on the bottom, and I kept telling him I needed the bottom, and these cars are just so bad in dirty air that he was holding me up really bad,” Truex added. “Once I got around him, I got to the 2 car in two laps. I just needed one more.
“We had the best car. We probably should have won that one.”
In his 650th Cup Series start, the elder Busch brother completed the podium, followed by Harvick and Clint Bowyer.
Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Daniel Suarez were the balance of the top 10.
Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin was never a factor in the race and finished 11th, one spot ahead of Larson, who was caught speeding on pit road at lap 225 and could never work back through the field.
However, Hamlin maintains the point lead by eight over Harvick heading into the West Coast Swing.
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