Brad Keselowski drives to an impressive, yet still frustrating, third at ‘500

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Brad Keselowski climbed from 33rd to third in the Miller Lite Ford on Sunday night, in what was by far his most impressive Daytona 500.

Heading into the Daytona 500, ECR Chevrolet engines stole the show in qualifying while Toyota entered the race with three wins in the three NASCAR Sprint Cup non-points preliminary races that make up Speedweeks.

So Ford had almost been lying in the weeds, but Keselowski’s now-white No. 2 Team Penske entry was an absolute rocket on race day.

“I thought our car was really, really, really strong. Best car I ever had here at Daytona,” he said after the race. “I’m proud of it. Got to the lead from the very back twice. Didn’t quite pull it off the third time, but got really close there obviously in the closing laps with some help from a few others.”

Keselowski played himself into position for the final restart after leading four times for 13 laps earlier in the race. As the lanes shifted and movement occurred, he never was able to get that last run to slingshot through to the lead.

Still, had he been able to replay the last two laps, he said he wouldn’t have done anything differently.

“When the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and 18 (Kyle Busch) broke apart, then the 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) split the 18, that was the end of my night. There was nothing I could do,” he said.

“It was just circumstances outside of my control. I could have blocked the 11 and ran second. That’s all that was going to happen if I would have blocked the 11. But I really wasn’t interested in running second. I took a shot at a different move that would have given me an opportunity to win and finished third. That’s just the way it is.”

It was a great run for the 2012 series champion, who’s seeking a bounce back 2014 after he failed to make the Chase in 2013.

But like Denny Hamlin in second, third here in the biggest race of the year simply wasn’t good enough. And given NASCAR’s new Chase format where winning is everything, Keselowski put to bed the line about having a “good points day.”

“Points days don’t mean anything anymore. That’s the great thing about this format,” he explained. “There is no good points day, as far as I’m concerned. What matters is a win, especially when you come to Daytona.”

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Even with half the purse and no fans, Indy 500 still has major team value

Indy 500 purse fans
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Even with reportedly half the purse and no fans in attendance, NTT IndyCar Series driver-owner Ed Carpenter believes it remains “absolutely critical” to hold the 104th Indy 500.

“Far and away it’s what makes and breaks our season as teams,” the Ed Carpenter Racing namesake told reporters during a Zoom media availability last week. “It’s the most important event to our partners. It 100 percent sucks not having fans there and not even being able to have the experience with our partners in full being there. But it’s necessary.

“We’ve got to look at all the hard decisions now of what we have to do to be in a position to have fans in 2021. It’s critical for the health of the teams that we have this race to make sure we have teams back here next year. That sounds a little dramatic, but that’s the reality.

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“We live in not only a very volatile world right now, but our industry and motorsport in general, it’s not an easy business to operate. When you lose your marquee event, it’s a lot different than looking at losing Portland on the schedule or Barber. They’re in totally different atmospheres as far as the importance to us and our partners.”

Robin Miller reported on RACER.com that IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske told team owners last week the purse for the postponed Indianapolis 500 was slashed from $15 to $7.5 million. Miller reported holding the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET, NBC) would be a $20 million hit to the bottom line.

Carpenter still is supportive of Penske’s “outstanding job” of leading the series through the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Even with a 50 percent purse reduction, the Indy 500 remains the linchpin of teams’ economic viability.

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The schedule has taken many hits with the cancellation of races at Barber Motorsports Park, Circuit of the Americas, Detroit, Portland International Raceway, Laguna Seca and Toronto, and another race weekend doubleheader at Mid-Ohio has been indefinitely postponed.

That leaves the 2020 slate at 12 confirmed races of an original 17, which has raised questions about how many races teams need to fulfill sponsor obligations.

“It’s a moving target,” said Carpenter, who announced the U.S. Space Force as a new sponsor for the Indy 500. “I think we’ve been pretty blessed as a team with the level of commitment of our partners and their understanding of COVID-19 and the impact on our schedule, our contracts.

“All of it is out of our control, out of the series’ control, the promoter’s control. At the end of the day is there a firm number (of races) I can give? No. But definitely every one that we lose, it does make it harder to continue having those conversations.

I think everyone’s as confident as you can be right now with what we have in front of us with what’s remaining on the schedule. Things are so fluid, it changes day-to-day, let alone week-to-week. We just have to take it as it comes. Right now the focus is on the 500 and maximizing this month to the best we possibly can given the situation.”

That’ll be hard this month for Carpenter, who grew up in Indianapolis and is the stepson of Tony George, whose family owned Indianapolis Motor Speedway for decades.

Having spent a lifetime around the Brickyard, Carpenter will feel the ache of missing fans as he races in his 17th Indy 500.

Ed Carpenter, shown racing his No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet at Iowa Speedway last month, led a race-high 65 laps and finished second in the 2018 Indy 500 (Chris Jones/IndyCar).

“Over that time you develop relationships that are centered around standing outside of your garage in Gasoline Alley,” he said. “It stinks, it sucks that we don’t get to share that passion we all have that is the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately it’s the reality we’re in right now.

I think this is the best that we can do unfortunately. Without a doubt it’s going to be a different environment. You’re going to be missing the sounds and a lot of the sights and colors. For sure I’ve thought about it. It’s going to be a different morning, different lead-in to the race. After 16 of them, you have a cadence and anticipation for the buildup. That’s all going to be different this year.

“I’m confident it’s not going to affect the type of show we put on or the excitement and how aggressive we are fighting for an Indy 500 win. It’s still going to mean the same thing. We’re just not going to have our fans to celebrate with after the fact. But it’s going to be historic.”