Keselowski writes “another chapter,” gets first driver-owner win for RFK

By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer

Brad Keselowski embraced the spirit of Darlington Raceway’s Throwback Weekend by doing something no one had seen in over three years: winning a NASCAR Cup Series race. 

Just like old times, Keselowski did a Polish victory lap in his 1997 TOM’s Castrol-dressed Ford Mustang Dark Horse, complete with an American flag waving proudly from the driver’s side window, following an exhilarating conclusion to the Goodyear 400.

But much has changed since the last sight of this scene.

Gone are the days of Keselowski in the Team Penske No. 2. In fact, this was his first win since beginning his new chapter as a co-owner of RFK Racing and driver of the iconic No. 6 Ford.

“So much has changed over the last three years from when I walked in the door [at RFK], and I see just a group that keeps getting stronger,” Keselowski said. “It’s tough because I feel like there’s been a lot of two steps forward, one step back, and you keep doing those.

“It never comes as quick as you want it to,” Keselowski added. “It’s a tedious, painful process that takes a deep grind at all levels, whether that’s the driver level, the organizational level, the pit crew level. 

“But that grind is worth it when you have moments like this. I surely appreciate it.”

In the 110 races between Keselowski’s last trip to victory lane, he experienced heartbreak on at least five occasions in the form of runner-up finishes – including twice this season in back-to-back weekends.

Second is also where he started the 293-lap event in Darlington, which also marked his first top-10 starting spot of the season. Ironically, that was where he ran for a majority of the afternoon to pole sitter Tyler Reddick.

Reddick, for all intents and purposes, dominated the race with a stage win and 174 laps led.

While Keselowski had excellent long-run speed and even got by Reddick a handful of times for the lead, his crew couldn’t quite replicate the opposition’s dominance and was always second-best off pit road, courtesy of the No. 1 pit stall for the No. 45 team.

With 34 to go, it looked like Keselowski would wind up a bridesmaid once again after losing a heated side-by-side battle for the lead with Reddick for three-straight laps. Subsequently, this enabled Chris Buescher in third to close the gap and complete a three-wide pass on the frontrunners.

With less than 10 to go, Reddick made an aggressive dive-bomb for the lead and wound up sandwiching Buscher between the outside wall and the right-side of his Toyota Camry XSE.

For about three laps, Keselowski was still unable to get around either car for the lead. That is until both drivers succumbed to flat tires.

“I’m thinking, ‘Oh, no, that was my shot,’” Keselowski said. “Then Tyler had a flat tire and then on the straightaway Chris had a flat tire. Then, I was just looking at my mirror thinking, ‘I hope nobody else comes and runs me down.’

“I’ll tell you, it was a heck of a dogfight,” Keselowski added. “I don’t know what the reactions were in the stands or people watching at home, but this race was a nail-biter in a lot of ways. Three-wide passes for the lead a couple times, and it really wasn’t settled until the last 10, 15 laps amongst the leaders.

“Pretty epic day regardless of our win, and just glad to be a part of it.”

After dominating the entire race, Reddick had to settle for a 32nd-place outing.

Buescher, fresh off his second runner-up of the season – which also happened to be the closest finish in Cup Series history – nursed his No. 17 to a 30th-place effort, while his teammate and owner got to celebrate the first victory of the season for Ford.

Although the Prosper, Texas driver would’ve preferred to bring the blue ovals their first win of the season – or at least come home with a quality finish – Buescher’s been able to benefit from Keselowski’s leadership, winning four races over the last two seasons.

Throughout his winless drought, there was never a doubt if Keselowski would eventually get back to victory lane, but when

Everyone, including Keselowski, knew it would take time to get the Ford stable back to being a weekly contender again. With Buscher scoring multiple wins across two seasons and both drivers combining for seven runner-ups since the former champion took on the leadership role, it’s clear he’s made the Roush name competitive again.

But 110 races is a long time. At 40 years old, Keselowski is the third-oldest full-time driver in the Cup garage, and opportunities to win don’t come as easily in general, given the nature of the seventh-generation car.

In finally capturing that elusive win and locking into the playoffs – as well as evidenced speed as a whole at RFK over the past few years – it seems like Keselowski may be on his way to returning to the championship-caliber threat he’s been known as.

“It’s just another chapter for me,” Keselowski said. “I don’t know what the next chapter will be. I’m not done with this one. I hope I’ve got a lot more pages to write. Took a little longer than I would’ve liked to have gotten an official win.

“I’m just thrilled that I’m able to put some meaningful pages in this chapter, and I hope there’s a lot more to come.”

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