By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
CONCORD, N.C. – A pass through penalty, a strategy call, and a spin combined to create a ‘land of confusion’ in Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400 for 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski.
The up and down day started in the first stage for the co-owner of RFK Racing. The No. 6 Castrol Edge Ford Mustang cut the exit of the frontstretch chicane on Lap 16. The owner-driver didn’t come to a complete stop and was thus penalized with a pass-through by officials.
Keselowski rallied to be inside the top-10 in the final Stage. Crew chief Matt McCall opted to bring the veteran driver to pit road for fresh Goodyear Racing Eagles under caution with 14 laps to go. In a must-win scenario due to the lack of stage points, it was the final gamble to get the Ford Performance driver to victory lane.
With just one additional caution, Keselowski only climbed back up to 18th when the checkered flag waved, 23-points behind the transfer to the NASCAR Playoffs Round of Eight.
“It wasn’t the cleanest today I had the one stop early in the race where I hit the curb and it was just too far over and we had to do a pass through,” Keselowski explained. “We really recovered from that very well, got back up in the top-10 and then we just faded a little bit. (We) pitted for tires to try to claw as we faded, I think (from) 10th or so, and we pitted for tires. Then I spun with the No. 1 car and clawed back out of that to an18th, which isn’t a great day, but it certainly could have been a lot worse.”
The Stage 1 penalty left Keselowski and his team confused. They felt that they had performed the stop and go. It wasn’t the only time in the race that a driver was penalized with either a further stop and go, like Bubba Wallace after he was spun through the backstretch chicane, or for not coming to a complete stop like Aric Almirola and Mike Rockenfeller.
“There was numerous levels of confusion and we thought we had served it with a stop and go and before that we thought that we had crossed over,” Keselowski stated. “In the end, it didn’t really make or break our day. It’s pretty absurd, but it’s the same for everybody.”
While he was eliminated from the playoffs, Keselowski still had a lot of positives to take away from the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL race. His teammate, Chris Buescher, advanced to the Round of Eight. The 39-year-old is poised to rebound from a 24th-place finish in points last season to at worst a 16th-place finish.
“I’m really happy for Chris and obviously you’re never happy when you don’t advance but if you look at where we were a year ago to where we’re at today, it’s night and day,” Keselowski observed.
“We want to make the same jump next year and there’s a level of patience that comes with that and building a team and a company and there’s a lot of great things that that we’re doing. We’re trying to have a at least have a little bit of a longer-term view of the sport and what we’re trying to do. I can see that we’re (going to)have the opportunity to come back next year even stronger.”
Next for the Rochester Hills, MI native is the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The next four races offer the opportunity for one of NASCAR’s ‘75 Greatest Drivers’ the chance to finish as high as fifth in the final points standings.
The South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is scheduled for Sunday, October 15 at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The race will also be broadcast on the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.