If this race were Saturday, Keselowski said, he would have been unable to drive. All he missed out on was practice time on the track - which obviously didn’t affect nearly as much as the nearly six pounds he said he lost due to flu-like symptoms. Pre-race, he underwent a couple IV treatments to revive.
But racing itself also revives. “Whenever you have a fast car, it’s funny how those things kind of disappear,” he said. After all, Keselowski won a race in 2011 while driving with a broken ankle.
“Racing is what I do, what I love. I’m not going to let anything get in the way of it. Get a little adrenaline in you and you overcome a lot of that stuff,” he said.
Keselowski led the final 33 laps of Sunday’s race, leaving it to the rest of the field to do all the hard work for track position while he enjoyed the clean air and unobstructed view at the front of the pack.
He announced his presence with authority when with just a bit more than 50 miles to go he gave Penske teammate Joey Logano a less than affectionate bump in the rear, passed down low and usurped the lead.
Logano would fall away with a wheel issue and at the end it would come down to Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. running for the checkered flag over the final few laps. Keselowski deftly held him off, if just barely.
“I saw (Truex) coming with three to go thought, oh, oh, I don’t know if I can hold him off. I was running out of ideas at the end. Another two or three laps I don’t know if I’d been able to hold him off,” Keselowski.
But this isn’t the Folds of Honor Quiktrip 503. So, no worries.
Keselowski was either aided by a series of pit row follies, or able to avoid them altogether:
Nobody led more laps Sunday than Kyle Larson (142 of 324), but he never recovered from a penalty for speeding out of pit row with just more than 150 miles left in the race.
The only crash of the day occurred on pit row in the late going when Ryan Preece collided with B.J. McLeod, spinning McLeod as he tried to enter his stall. A crewman for Chris Buescher was injured and hospitalized after McLeod’s car spun into the pit wall. The unidentified crewman was pronounced awake and alert by track officials.
Ryan Blaney’s strong run at a place where he never had finished better than 12th — he led 41 laps Sunday — was undone when he tried to drive off too early and broke his jack before the pit stop was complete.
Meanwhile, on the track, local favorite, Dawsonville’s Chase Elliott, never challenged for the front. Starting 22nd, he finished 19th Sunday. It was his first finish outside the top 10 in four Cup races on what he considers his hometown track.
As far as the winning team was concerned, the new NASCAR set-up rules debuted here — meant to improve the racing — were a success.
“It was a solid B for NASCAR,” team owner Roger Penske said. “Nobody gets an A on their first exam.”
“You could race, come up, fall back. I thought overall it made a big difference,” Penske said.
Winning the first race under the new rules package — further proof of his adaptability on the track — was only one facet that Keselowski cited as making this win special.
This always will be the race in which Keselowski won his 60th race for Penske, surpassing the team record of Mark Donohue. The former Indy 500 winner had won 59 races in open wheel and road racing. He died in 1975 while practicing in Austria, nine years before Keselowski was born.
“I’m in a little bit of a daze, it was a long tough race,” Keselowski said. “Trying to rewind it in my head what happened and what it means is a little difficult at the moment. It was a big day for us, one I’ll reflect on for a long time.
“Look at the list of (Penske) drivers. It’s a pretty big list, not just in number of drivers but in superstar power. Just to be on it is special. To be on top means a little bit more.”
“Mark set a mark that I thought no one would ever beat,” Penske said. “(Keselowski) is going to make it tougher for anyone in the future to get to.”
He obviously has the stomach to win a lot more.