Debris slows Brad Keselowski, costs him win at Pocono

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If things would have gone a bit more his way in five particular races thus far this season, Brad Keselowski could theoretically be running away with the Sprint Cup points lead right now.

But instead of hoped-for wins, Keselowski came up short at those five races, finishing third at Daytona and Phoenix, fourth at Richmond, second last week at Dover and – much to his chagrin – second again in Sunday’s Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway.

Keselowski dominated the Pocono race, leading 95 of the 160 laps, but debris on the grill of his Team Penske Ford late in the race caused his car to start overheating.

“The car was real hot,” Keselowski told TNT. “We had a really fast Ford. Just got a big piece of debris on the grill and I had to do something or it was going to blow up.”

He didn’t want to take a chance that the motor would grenade, so in an effort to suck the debris off the grill, he got behind the lapped car of Danica Patrick.

Unfortunately, Keselowski lost momentum when Patrick slowed unexpectedly, allowing Dale Earnhardt Jr. to motor on to the victory, with Keselowski ultimately winding up in second place.

“I tried to make a move to get behind the 10 (Patrick) and use the air to pull the debris off it,” Keselowski said. “But when she got into the corner, she got loose and I just chased her up there and lost too much momentum.

“I should have just passed her, but I had to do some kind of move. The car wasn’t going to make it. It was already starting to blow up. It was all I could do.

“Dale made a heck of a move to take advantage of it and that’s sometimes just how racing goes.”

But Keselowski can’t be all upset: he jumped three places from eighth to fifth in the Sprint Cup rankings after Sunday’s race at the 2.5-mile so-called Tricky Triangle at Pocono.

Keselowski hopes to avenge his shortcomings in those five races this coming weekend on his home track at Michigan International Speedway.

He’s never won a Cup event on MIS’s high speed two-mile oval. In fact, his results there have been less than inspiring: just two top-five finishes in nine starts there.

But Keselowski hopes to turn that trend around next Sunday.

“We’re hitting the summer stretch with a lot of momentum and I’m really proud of my team,” he said. “I just wish I would have executed a little better (Sunday) and got the win.

“I should have just ran it and seen if it would have blown up. I don’t think it would have made it – maybe it would have – but I didn’t want to do that to Doug Yates’ engine shop. It would have been unfair to them.

“We had a real good car, Dale and I were pretty equal, and he made the right move at the end.”

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne