NASCAR Crash Course: The Lady In Black throws Brad Keselowski a bone

nascar crash course: the lady in black throws brad keselowski a bone

NASCAR Crash Course: The Lady In Black throws Brad Keselowski a bone

It's been 110 races, over three years since Brad Keselowski last visited NASCAR Cup Series victory lane. A long-term rebuild was expected after jumping from Team Penske in 2022 to become a co-owner in Jack Roush's team but, four runner-up finishes later, he was overdue to get over the hump.

Leave it to Darlington Raceway's throwback weekend to throw Keselowski that lucky break, a throwback victory for one of the oldest drivers on the entry list.

The 40-year-old was right place, right time when teammate Chris Buescher and Tyler Reddick collided up ahead of him, cruising past both to earn the victory in Sunday's Goodyear 400. It checked a lot of boxes off the list for this 2012 Cup champion: first Ford win of the year in any of NASCAR's top three series, an almost-certain playoff bid and the first Mother's Day win of his career with wife, Paige, and his three kids in attendance.

"One of my probably favorite childhood memories is being in victory lane with my dad, and I think I was 10 or 11 years old," Keselowski explained. "I'll never forget that day … I want that same memory for them. It's one of those core memories that I have."

All it takes is that win to help straighten out the ownership rollercoaster. Keselowski earned just one top-five finish during his first season at the helm then watched teammate Chris Buescher succeed last year, winning three times while his No. 6 got shut out.

Meanwhile, Keselowski's former employer won the last two Cup championships with Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney, respectively. But Penske knows the pain of transition, too; the No. 2 has struggled with replacement Austin Cindric, earning just six top-five finishes since a surprise Daytona 500 upset in 2022.

For Keselowski, the first co-owner to win in his own car since Tony Stewart in 2016, the sacrifices have been well worth it.

"I'm really proud of the career I had at Penske and always will be," Keselowski said. "It was a really special place to work with some really special people.

"This is just another chapter, right? It doesn't replace that chapter. But it's another chapter where I can look in the mirror and say that I'm leaving some kind of mark on the sport, maybe even on some of the people … it feels so good to have a positive mark on others that way."

Now, the pages in Keselowski's book of life can turn toward another championship push. Looking to tie Terry Labonte's mark for the largest gap in between Cup titles (his only one came in 2012), the best may be yet to come for a first-year Ford chassis still finding its footing.

"We took a pretty big step back over the offseason," Keselowski admitted. "It was with a lot of intentionality in a couple of critical categories. We paid for that dearly to start the year and kind of lost some performance.

"But it was in the name of being able to do this right here: Win races honest and be competitive, and the two steps forward are just now being realized."

Traffic Report

Green: Justin Haley. Haley posted a ninth-place finish at Darlington, his first top-10 run of the year. That may not seem like much until you take a closer look at the Rick Ware Racing organization he drives for: in over 600 career starts, they had never so much as sniffed the top 10 outside of the pack racing tracks of Daytona, Talladega and Atlanta. It's incredible what the infusion of Haley has done to that program.

Yellow: Ty Gibbs. Gibbs posted a career-best runner-up finish at Darlington, his first top-five result in nearly two months. It's been a strong sophomore season for the driver of the No. 54 Toyota, but he remains in search of his first win, missing out on an automatic bid to next week's All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Red: Zane Smith. Smith's nightmare rookie season continued after the Track Too Tough To Tame ate him up and spit his No. 71 car out down the frontstretch. The former Truck Series champion is now without a top-15 finish in his first full-time campaign since the season-opening Daytona 500, so far back in points he's behind a fellow rookie (Kaz Grala) who hasn't even competed in two of the year's first 13 events.

Speeding Ticket: Racing Clean. Twice, Chris Buescher has played it straight, giving rivals Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick room they needed when mounting challenges for the win.

Twice, Buescher has wound up burned. Last week's loss by .001 of a second was followed by something far worse, a flat tire after contact with Reddick that doomed both driver's chances to win at Darlington.

The incident led to an angry confrontation between Buescher and Reddick on pit road.

Reddick was clearly apologetic but Buescher wasn't having it, feeling the pain of another win slipping away.

"We had clean racing all day long and to get flat-out fenced like that, there's no excuse," Buescher said. "It's a poor decision and an immature move. I just don't get it."

What's sad is that Buescher raced the "right way" and paid the price. Now, questions loom on whether a do-it-right driving style will cost him a shot at long-term success.

One exception? His car owner, proud of the way Buescher performed.

"I don't think Chris needs to change a darn thing about what he does," Keselowski exclaimed. "It might not have worked out today, but there's other days where it works for him and makes him what he is. It makes him special. It makes him good."

Oops!

William Byron and Ryan Blaney got into a little tiff on track when a three-abreast move by Byron led to Blaney getting the worst of it on Lap 130.

Blaney wound up the first car out of the race, expressing his displeasure with Byron on the track and then outside the infield care center after being released.

"I just wanted to show that I wasn't happy," Blaney explained. "After watching the replay, I kind of deserve not to be happy. [Byron] used up some good track that I thought he didn't have to use up."

It's another tough break for the reigning champ at Darlington, a track where he has yet to earn a top-five finish in 15 career starts.

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