Weekend wrap: Brad Keselowski rises up to Talladega challenge

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A star-spangled celebration for Brad Keselowski. Photo: Getty Images.

It’s not always easy to give credit where credit is due.

But for many within NASCAR Nation that condemned Brad Keselowski following his post-race actions at Charlotte Motor Speedway, that’s what they need to do.

Yes, Keselowski did some dumb things.

Yes, he deserved the $50,000 fine and probation.

And yes, he brought more unnecessary adversity upon himself as he went into Sunday’s Contender Round finale at Talladega Superspeedway needing a win in order to move on in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But you have to tip your cap to a guy that can overcome all of that and get the result that saved his season.

We can’t quite say that Keselowski’s victory on Sunday was a miracle. The man drives for Team Penske, one of the top two teams in NASCAR, after all.

But it was most definitely impressive. He had to start from the back of the grid (unapproved adjustment). Then, he took damage to his car as part of an early crash at Lap 60, and had to give up precious track position in order to get it straightened out.

Undaunted, Keselowski quickly raced his way back into the Top 10.

Then late in the race, a caution came out during the final cycle of green flag pit stops. Keselowski had pitted before the yellow and had to take a restart with nine laps to go in 16th place.

But with the help of teammates Joey Logano (already in the Eliminator Round thanks to his Kansas win) and Ryan Blaney, Keselowski roared all the way to second place when a debris caution with four to go sent the race into green-white-checkered.

A crash involving Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended the first attempt, but in the second attempt, Keselowski went wheel-to-wheel with a game Ryan Newman. As the final lap played out, Keselowski got help on the inside from – of all people – Matt Kenseth, the same man that was driven to such rage by him at Charlotte that he attacked him from behind and put him in a headlock.

The racing gods work in mysterious ways. But their machinations definitely worked for Keselowski, who pulled away from Newman and led Kenseth to the checkered flag.

Such a result is sure to polarize fans after what occurred in Charlotte. But whether you love or loathe Keselowski, what he did on Sunday – to win in a must-win situation, in NASCAR’s most treacherous setting – deserves respect.

MORE: Roger Penske defends Keselowski, says other drivers “jealous” of his success

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It just wasn’t meant to be for Junior. Photo: AP.

Brad Keselowski avoided Chase elimination thanks to his Talladega win, but four others – including three from the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut – could not.

On Lap 102, Kyle Busch was riding in the back of the pack hoping to dodge chaos in front of him as it happened. Sure enough, contact between Aric Almirola and J.J. Yeley on the backstretch touched off a multi-car melee.

But instead of avoiding it, Busch was hit from behind by another car and sent into the inside retaining wall. Almost 50 laps passed before Busch returned to the track, but his 40th-place finish caused him to miss out on the Chase by seven points.

Meanwhile, the Hendrick trio of Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. all came up short as well.

Kahne’s 12th-place finish was not enough as he missed the cutoff by just three points. Johnson led a race-high 84 laps and was running in the Top 5 late, but was shuffled back during green-white-checkered and could not recover (finished 24th). And Earnhardt was caught in a backstretch pileup during GWC1.

With that, the mighty HMS is down to one Chase representative – Jeff Gordon, who finished 26th but managed to beat Kahne for the eighth and final Eliminator Round spot.

MORE: Winless Newman, Kenseth move onCould either of them conquer the Chase?Newman’s car found to be too low, may lead to penaltiesWhat to do if your favorite driver’s been eliminatedLandon Cassill earns career-best finish

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.