Keselowski steals Pro Invitational win at virtual Talladega

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By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer

2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski snatched the lead on the final restart to win the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series GEICO 70 at the virtual Talladega Superspeedway.

Domination

Keselowski ran inside the top-10 for much of the 70-lap race in his virtual No. 2 MoneyLion Ford Mustang. The Team Penske driver often lined up alongside polesitter James Davison on the late-race restarts. Davison dominated the 186.2-mile race, leading 61 laps.

Battle for the Lead

On the final restart with two laps to go, Davison was separated from his Rick Ware Racing teammates. Leaving the restart zone early, Davison, Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Christopher Bell left the field behind. Off turn two, the Rochester Hills, MI native pulled alongside Davison and took the lead. The polesitter attempted to work with William Byron before being left on his own.

That left Keselowski and Bell to battle for the lead. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver waited to make his move until off turn four for the final time. However, a massive wreck behind the leaders erased much of the momentum he had. Exiting the tri-oval, Keselowski took the checkered flag with Bell in tow. Busch, Timmy Hill, Alex Bowman, completed the top-five.

“It’s no trade off to the real Talladega this weekend, but I’m excited about it either way,” admitted Keselowski. “I haven’t been doing a lot of iRacing. Logged in today around 5:30, ran my first few laps, and about an hour later I have a win. I feel very blessed.

“It’s good to get everything working. I want to thank TJ Majors for coming over here to my shop and installed everything. I am not the tech guy. He came in and installed all of the updates, loaded all of the paint schemes.

“It’s really fun. James Davison is really good at iRacing, I could tell that pretty quickly. He knew what lanes to run, knew all of the little nuances. I just watched him, learned from him, and saw an opportunity and struck. Finally got a win in the MoneyLion car, feel like all of my teammates had. It might be virtual, but hopefully it carries over to this weekend at Talladega.”

Notables

Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell crashed across the line with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Davison, Cole Custer, and Austin Dillon rounded out the top-10. Fan vote winner, and U.S. Navy Reservist Jesse Iwuji took the checkered flag in 19th.

Until the final restart, Davison was never challenged for the race lead. The only time other drivers, including Earnhardt, Dillon, and Joey Logano led the race was during green flag pit stops.

The race was slowed seven times by cautions for a total of 21 laps. The biggest crash took place when Corey LaJoie and Denny Hamlin made contact in turn three. They collected Matt DiBenedetto, Alex Bowman, Iwuji, Kyle Larson, and several others. By virtue of the two fast repairs at their disposal, 39 of the 40 entries were still running at the end of the race.

Chase Briscoe narrowly avoided getting swept up in the final lap incident off of turn four. Although he emerged unscathed in his virtual No. 14 Rush Trucks Centers Ford Mustang, Briscoe finished 36th, one lap down.

The only driver not on track when the checkered flag waved was Aric Almirola. Internet connection issues sidelined the virtual No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang before the race even started.

Harvick vs. Harvick

A race within the race was the focus of many. Kevin Harvick competed with his son, Keelan Harvick. The younger Harvick was among the fastest in practice in his virtual No. 62 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang. Invited to the iRacing event by FOX Sports, Keelan Harvick quietly ran inside the top-15 until he was swept up in an incident sparked by Ross Chastain and Joey Gase. Kevin Harvick finished 13th while Keelan finished 38th.

The Finish

1. 2-Brad Keselowski [12], 2. 20-Christopher Bell [24], 3. 18-Kyle Busch [5], 4. 66-Timmy Hill [6], 5. 48-Alex Bowman [33], 6. 34-Michael McDowell [8], 7. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr. [7], 8. 15-James Davison [1], 9. 41-Cole Custer [27] 10. 3-Austin Dillon [15], 11. 77-Justin Haley [29], 12. 23-Bubba Wallace [14], 13. 4-Kevin Harvick [9], 14. 51-Garrett Smithley [3], 15. 12-Ryan Blaney [40], 16. 17-Chris Buescher [13], 17. 5-Kyle Larson [11], 18. 6-Ryan Newman [25], 19. 99-Jesse Iwuji [22], 20. 79-Clint Bowyer [34], 21. 11-Denny Hamlin [4], 22. 19-Martin Truex Jr. [17], 23. 47-Ricky Stenhouse Jr. [28], 24. 43-Erik Jones [38], 25. 97-Daniel Suarez [36], 26. 00-Quin Houff [26], 27. 52-Josh Bilicki [35], 28. 7-Corey LaJoie [16], 29. 8-Tyler Reddick [21], 30. 38-Anthony Alfredo [2], 31. 42-Ross Chastain [37], 32. 24-William Byron [19], 33. 9-Chase Elliott [23], 34. 21-Matt DiBenedetto [10], 35. 28-Joey Gase [18], 36. 14-Chase Briscoe [32], 37. 22-Joey Logano [30], 38. 62-Keelan Harvick [39], 39. 78-BJ McLeod [31], 40. 10-Aric Almirola [20].

Lead Changes: Five among five drivers.

Lap Leader(s): James Davison 1-38, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 39, Joey Logano 40-41, Austin Dillon 42-45, James Davison 46-68, Brad Keselowski 69-70.

Laps Led: James Davison 61, Austin Dillon 4, Joey Logano 2, Brad Keselowski 2, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 1.

Hard Charger(s): 48-Alex Bowman and 77-Justin Haley (+28).

Cautions: Seven for 21 Laps.

Margin of Victory: 0.105 seconds.

Time of Race: One hour, 27 minutes, 20.663 seconds.

Average Speed: 127.908 MPH.

Pole Winner: 15-James Davison, 51.924 seconds (184.423 MPH).

Fastest Lap: 24-William Byron, Lap 2, 48.684 seconds (196.697 MPH).

Feature Photo Credit: Photo by Justin Melillo

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