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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Talladega plus Brad Keselowski equals drama

What is it about Talladega that brings out the drama for Brad Keselowski?

A year ago, Brad drove into the spotlight after his shocking win in the #09 car and his involvement in a high-flying incident that sent Carl Edwards into the catch fence.

This year, he saw Victory Lane again, but this time on the Nationwide side, where he won his first race for Penske Racing. Ironically, the race ended on a caution that sent Dennis Setzer sideways and into the catch fence in a fiery crash that was similarly scary.

The crazy part? Brad almost didn’t get a chance to race Sunday night.

During the Cup race, Keselowski’s car was damaged and carbon monoxide was getting into the car. After the race, NASCAR said his levels of carbon monoxide were too high, and for a while wouldn’t allow him to get into the Nationwide car.
Finally, at the last minute, they got it all sorted out and he was cleared to compete in the Nationwide race. And the rest is history.

Watching that last lap in the Nationwide race, it didn’t look like Brad was going to have a shot. But contact initiated by Jamie McMurray, who was trying to squeeze between leader Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, led to the usual carnage that takes place at the end of Talladega races. As he has done so many times in his career, Keselowski was able to take advantage, running the high line up ahead of Harvick and taking the win on the last lap, just as he did a year ago in the Cup race.

The ability to run well at plate tracks doesn’t come to all drivers, but Brad most definitely has a knack for it. I’m guessing Dale Earnhardt Jr. taught him a few things during his time at Jr. Motorsports.

Say what you will about Brad, one thing is for sure: It’s never boring when he wins, and that’s a good thing.

Borneman’s best day
Johnny Borneman III may have been the happiest person at Talladega after Sunday’s action. In 16 previous Nationwide starts, he finished in the top-20 only twice.
On Sunday night, he survived all the carnage and ended up 5th, which he said was basically a win for him and his family’s underfunded, part-time team. His emotional reaction reminds us that once you get past all the million-dollar sponsors, this sport is really about the desire these drivers have to win and the emotion that comes with that. With up-and-coming drivers like Borneman, you see that emotion a lot more than you do with the star

Bonehead move of the race
For as talented as these Cup drivers are, it’s amazing how many of them make bad moves when they dip down to the Nationwide series. I respect that Jamie McMurray wanted to win the race, but squeezing your car into a space that’s not big enough for it just isn’t very smart. In the process, he took out about a dozen cars, including some from underfunded tams (Setzer drives for Brian Keselowski, who is running a family-owned team with little to no sponsorship).

Other solid finishes
Despite the fiery wreck, Dennis Setzer was still credited with a 17th place, lead lap finish. Not too bad for a destroyed car. ARCA racer Patrick Sheltra came in 18th.
Chrissy Wallace finished 24th, and on the lead lap … much better than her last-place run at Daytona.
Steve Arpin finished 26th driving in the #7 JR Motorsports ride, in his first-ever Nationwide race.

Tough times for Colin Braun
For the next two weeks, Rookie of the Year candidate Colin Braun won’t be in the #16 car in the Nationwide races, replaced by Matt Kenseth. Braun has shown promise in the past, including a win in the Truck series, but this year he has struggled mightily in the Nationwide series. He sits 25th in points, at the very back of the pack among drivers who have run all the races. Jack Roush is trying to fill out sponsorship for that car for the year, and he believes Kenseth gives them a better chance to get sponsors. The way Braun has been running, Roush is correct in this belief.

All is not lost, as Braun will be back in the car in a few weeks, and run most of the year in the car, but it’s clearly not been the kind of season he’s hoped to have. This move by Roush is evidence of just how quickly young drivers are expected to produce. The sponsors and owners want to see results yesterday, and Braun is learning what happens when that doesn’t come to pass. I think he’ll right the ship sometime later this year, but this is an important lesson he’s learning early in his career.


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