Keselowski Displays the Heart of a Champion in Gutty Daytona PerformanceBy Jack Payton
It’s often said that champions know how to deal with adversity, and in the Daytona 500 no driver navigated hardships more admirably than the reigning titleholder.
As the No.2 Ford limped back to the shed at the end of Sunday’s race, you would have had a hard time recognizing it as one of the top finishers. Brad Keselowski’s vehicle was fastened together with repair adhesive and had the looks of a car that must have been dozens of laps down, having come back onto the track after multiple wrecks just for a moral victory.
But no, that pieced-together jalopy that was involved in two separate accidents wasn’t running circles for practice. Keselowski, with the grit of a true champion, almost won the race.
Keselowski’s team was beaming with pride after the race, and for good reason. Crew Chief Paul Wolfe noted that winning championships occurs when you find a way to finish near the top on the days when you don’t have the best car.
And Keselowski hardly had the best car on Sunday, even before he sustained considerable damage.
Yet he still finished fourth.
A combination of quick patchwork and cagey pit row strategy vaulted the No.2 to the lead late in the event, before he finally gave way to Jimmie Johnson on the final restart.
Luck, of course, also played a role. Keselowski was fortunate to come out of the big crash on lap 33 still on the lead lap, while rivals Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick had no such good fortune.
But as fortunate as Keselowski may have been to avoid catastrophe on lap 33, he was equally unlucky on lap 138 when he got involved in a mini-pileup with David Reutimann and Trevor Bayne, causing significant damage to the No.2’s rear.
But some quick repair jobs got the car back out on the track, and lo and behold Keselowski reported that it was driving as good as could be hoped, considering the damage that it had sustained.
In fact, once he was able to navigate to the front, the car seemed to be performing like it was new. In fact, Keselowski was cruising so efficiently that if it wasn’t for some bad luck with 26 laps to go when Jeff Burton crashed into the wall, triggering a caution flag. The No.2 might have kept going right into victory lane.
As it was, the damaged vehicle just didn’t have the oomph to survive a restart against that was speeding on the advantageous high-side, leaving Keselowski in the dust on the bottom lane.
It ended up being a respectable fourth-place finish for a car and a driver that likely had no business being on the lead lap, let alone competing for the overall lead with a few laps to go.
As nice as it might have been to follow up his 2012 with his first Daytona victory, Keselowski and his new owners have to be thrilled with a result that put everyone else on notice.
If you are going to beat the champion, you are going to have to outrace him fair and square. He is not going to fold when faced with adversity. Keselowski is a champion and already this season, he’s showing us that he is capable of doing it again.