Brad Keselowski wins at Talladega on 2nd G-W-C attempt, advances in Chase

10 Comments

What a difference a week makes.

Last Saturday night, Brad Keselowski was at the center of controversy after being part of multiple incidents following the race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The $50,000 fine for his actions just added more pressure to a situation that required him to win today’s elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway in order to advance to the Eliminator Round of the Chase.

But on this Sunday, on NASCAR’s most chaotic track, Keselowski came through by charging from 39th on the starting grid, overcoming damage to his car from an early incident, and then surviving two green-white-checkered attempts to win the GEICO 500.

Upon reaching Victory Lane, Keselowski appeared to show remorse for what occurred in Charlotte.

“I know there are some people out there that probably aren’t happy that I won. I can understand that,” he said to ESPN. “But I’m a man like everyone else that does things they aren’t always proud of. I’m not real proud of last week. But I’m real proud about today.

“…I think it was very easy to write ourselves off after the last two weeks. We had one job to do: Come to Talladega and win it. And we did. We treated this weekend like Homestead. If these guys can keep it up at this level, we’ve got a shot at it. And I’m really, really thankful for that.”

A debris caution with four laps remaining set the stage for G-W-C, with Keselowski taking the restart in second alongside Ryan Newman. But he was able to take the lead from Newman before a multi-car incident broke out on the backstretch that involved Dale Earnhardt Jr. and several others.

That set up the second G-W-C attempt, and Newman mounted a charge on the outside as the white flag waved. He pulled side-by-side with Keselowski all the way to Turn 3 on the final lap.

But Keselowski and the inside line were able to pull ahead in the final corner, and the 2012 Cup champion went on to take, arguably, his greatest win yet at NASCAR’s top level.

“My first win in my [Cup] career was here and that was really big,” Keselowski said in reference to his inaugural Cup win in 2009. “This is at least the equal. It’s special.”

Newman went on to finish fifth at the stripe, but it was more than enough to get him into the Eliminator Round as the top Chaser without a win in the Contender Round.

Following him in on points were Denny Hamlin (18th place), race runner-up Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards (21st place), and Jeff Gordon (26th place), who earned the final Chase advance position by three points over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne.

On the other side of the cutoff with Kahne are Kyle Busch (-7 points), who finished 40th after being caught in a crash on Lap 102; Jimmie Johnson (24th place, -40 points); and Earnhardt, who was relegated to a 31st-place result due to the GWC1 accident. Their hopes of earning this year’s championship have come to a close earlier than they hoped for.

Clint Bowyer picked up a third-place finish behind Keselowski and Kenseth in the race. Landon Cassill surprised with a fourth place finish, then Newman in fifth, Travis Kvapil in sixth, Kurt Busch in seventh, Marcos Ambrose in eighth, Kevin Harvick in ninth and Casey Mears in 10th.

NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES AT TALLADEGA – GEICO 500
Unofficial Results

1. 2-Brad Keselowski, led 12 laps
2. 20-Matt Kenseth, led 1 lap
3. 15-Clint Bowyer
4. 40-Landon Cassill, led 1 lap
5. 31-Ryan Newman, led 10 laps
6. 33-Travis Kvapil
7. 41-Kurt Busch
8. 9-Marcos Ambrose
9. 4-Kevin Harvick, led 2 laps
10. 13-Casey Mears
11. 22-Joey Logano
12. 5-Kasey Kahne, led 12 laps
13. 3-Austin Dillon
14. 36-Reed Sorenson
15. 26-Cole Whitt, led 1 lap
16. 66-Michael Waltrip
17. 42-Kyle Larson
18. 11-Denny Hamlin, led 1 lap
19. 10-Danica Patrick, led 7 laps
20. 55-Brian Vickers
21. 99-Carl Edwards
22. 12-Ryan Blaney, led 15 laps
23. 47-A.J. Allmendinger
24. 48-Jimmie Johnson, led 84 laps
25. 16-Greg Biffle, led 1 lap
26. 24-Jeff Gordon, led 3 laps
27. 78-Martin Truex Jr., led 1 lap
28. 98-Josh Wise
29. 38-David Gilliland, led 2 laps
30. 34-David Ragan, led 2 laps
31. 88-Dale Earnhardt Jr., led 31 laps
32. 21-Trevor Bayne
33. 32-Terry Labonte
34. 14-Tony Stewart, led 5 laps
35. 1-Jamie McMurray, led 3 laps
36. 27-Paul Menard
37. 7-Michael Annett
38. 49-Mike Wallace
39. 43-Aric Almirola
40. 18-Kyle Busch
41. 95-Michael McDowell
42. 83-J.J. Yeley
43. 23-Alex Bowman

Rossi remains ‘The Story’ in IndyCar in 2019

3 Comments

ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”