It wasn't a spur of the moment move. It wasn't a move that anyone expected. It was a move that team owner Roger Penske called "pretty amazing." And it was a move that made Brad Keselowski the winner of Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega.
Most everyone expected the two-car tandem to be the deciding factor in Sunday's Aaron's 499, just like it was in Saturday's Nationwide Series race. And the common thought was that the driver in second place in that two-car tandem would have the advantage as the finish line approached. Keselowski confirmed the former. But not the latter.
Restarting on the inside of the front row with two laps to go, Keselowski had Kyle Busch (the driver he famously called a rear end in no uncertain terms once in Bristol driver intros) behind him. Race leader Matt Kenseth had his teammate Greg Biffle behind him on the outside line. Just like at Daytona, Kenseth had the dominant car on Sunday. And Just like at Daytona, Biffle couldn't get latched onto Kenseth's bumper in the closing laps. Yes, Kenseth's car might have been too good to win.
Enter Keselowski and Busch, who immediately latched together as Kenseth and Biffle pulled away at the restart. However, once Keselowski and Busch gathered steam while their bumpers were locked, Kenseth, Biffle and the rest of the field were left fighting for third place.
Keselowski led Busch high into turn three on the last lap. He knew that Busch would wait as long as possible to make his move to capitalize on the draft, so he made his move early, diving to the low-side of the banking, breaking contact between his rear bumper and Busch's front fender. Once that contact was broken, Busch's momentum was too, and Keselowski could focus more what was in front of him than was in his rear-view mirror.
"Then Kyle, I just knew the move I wanted to make and made it into three and disconnected us and that was the key right there. Once we got the air bubble in between the two cars, it was going to take two or three laps for him to pop that and we only had to go half a lap, and not quite that."
It was Keselowski's second win of 2012 and second win at Talladega, the first coming in 2009, the first time we'd see the tandem draft work to such extremes in the Sprint Cup Series. That, of course, was when Carl Edwards went flying off of Keselowski's front bumper in the tri-oval. Three years later, this move came from the front, and didn't involve flying sheetmetal.
And because it's Keselowski's second win of the season, it makes him a virtual lock for the Chase if he's not in the top 10 after the season's 26th race. A Sprint Cup Series title is the only thing that's eluded Penske, and he feels that Keselowski is the driver that can deliver it for him.
"He's matured a lot," Penske said of Keselowski. "He's been a tremendous asset to the team. He's not just for Brad Keselowski, he's for Penske Racing. You see that when he comes in the shop and he's spending a lot of time. I wouldn't trade him for anybody right now and you know that."
Keselowski joined Penske late in 2009, and after just over a year in the No. 12 car that resulted in just two top 10s in 39 races, took over the Miller Lite No. 2 in 2011. In that No. 2, he's got five wins in 46 races. As a Wild-Card entrant into last year's Chase, Keselowski was still somewhat of a championship afterthought despite his three wins.
He finished the 2011 season fifth. Now in May of 2012, it'd be crazy to not consider him a prime contender when we get to November.
"He came to me, and we talked about before he went to work for us, he said 'Look, I'd like to come to Penske Racing and help you build a winning Cup team.' He said 'that's my goal,'" Penske said. "And I think he's certainly demonstrating that from his driving ability and the way he's been able to pull together and his chemistry with Paul Wolfe and that whole team has obviously made a difference because this is not just about the driver and the car or the sponsor, it's about the whole team and I think that he's the real package and what we're trying to do is give him everything we can to give him a winner and obviously one of the goals in my life is to sit up on that stage either in New York or Las Vegas sometime and I think he's the guy that can make it happen this year, hopefully."
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