Team Penske’s Brickyard 400 curse continues as Keselowski loses late lead

Matthew T. Thacker/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

INDIANAPOLIS — Some say he lost outright. Others think he should have had one more shot.

One thing is certain. Brad Keselowski’s quest to give Team Penske a Brickyard 400 win fell heartbreakingly short of completion.

Keselowski held the lead coming the the final restart Sunday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but surrendered the top spot to race-winner Kasey Kahne in Turn 1. When the field stacked up behind him for a race record 14th-caution flag moments later, the race was called complete.

While the finish triggered arguments amongst the NASCAR fan base – some believe the yellow should have flown before Kahne crossed the overtime line to end the race – Keselowski’s only regret was that he didn’t get one more restart.

“Kasey and I swapped (the lead) back and forth three or four times, the lead there on those restarts.,” Keselowski said. “It seemed like whoever was second would get the lead.  Makes me wish I would have got one more restart, you know.  The one where I was would have stayed clear, but that’s not the way it was.

We just have to take our result and move on.”

While Keselowski’s day ended with a failed shot at a victory, the Michigander’s day couldn’t have begun much further from winning contention.

“We just weren’t dialed in,” Keselowski said. “Paul (Wolfe, crew chief) and my team made it better almost every pit stop and put us in position to maybe not be the best car, but to be a top‑five, fifth‑ to tenth‑place car.  Caught some breaks with the yellows and strategy to take it a little bit further than that. That was certainly awful nice to see.”

While his car struggled in dirt air, Keselowski was able to get to the front by virtue of pit strategy. The 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion led the field during a late green-flag stint. For a time it appeared his time in the lead would be limited, with a required stop for fuel necessary before the end of the race. However a late caution shortly before Keselowski needed to pit set the 33-year-old up as one of the few in contention through the closing laps.

Keselowski joined Kahne as the two drivers embraced in the final duel, holding his ground on the outside of a three-wide battle that led to a crash for Jimmie Johnson – a move he called a “tin cup moment”, saying he “didn’t want to lose by laying up.”

Keselowski took over the top spot on the penultimate restart to give himself lane choice for the final run to the finish. After seeing the oil dry left down for the crash that caused that yellow – a massive pileup on the frontstretch – Keselowski chose the outside lane for the ensuing restart.

He hoped Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet wouldn’t stick on the bottom.

It did.

“I felt like I hit (the restart) pretty well,” Keselowski said. “Just Kasey, it stuck.  He drove through the oil dry.  He didn’t just drive through it, he drove it in there, and it stuck.  You know, lots of credit to him for getting it to stick.  It was impressive. I didn’t feel like I could do that if I was on the bottom lane.  Maybe I could have, I don’t know.  You never know till you’re in that spot.”

The caution flag flew moments later, and Keselowski was left coming to terms with a bittersweet loss in one of NASCAR’s marquee races.

Perhaps it’s good, then, that the exhaustion of a brutal day in Indiana keep his mind clear from deep thought.

“I just got out of a car that was 130 degrees for six hours,” Keselowski said when asked about his disappointment. “I’m not even sure where I’m sitting right now.  That’s a really deep question. Second sucks, but there’s 38 other spots worse than that, so…  I guess it’s a glass half full, glass half empty question.  You know, it’s got its ups and its downs.”

The result was Team Penske’s fourth runner-up result in the Brickyard 400, joining similar results for Rusty Wallace (1995, 2002) and Joey Logano (2015).

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