With a NASCAR version of, “Hey, y’all, watch this,” Brad Keselowski defied logic and used a double-super-secret move Sunday to pull off, leave Kyle Busch and win the Aaron’s 499 by a whopping 0.306 seconds.
Nobody — not his car owner, Roger Penske, not even his crew chief, Paul Wolfe — knew what he was about to pull. To that effect, “they’re on a need-to-know basis,” Keselowski said.
“Sometimes there’s things I’d rather him not tell me,” Wolfe added.
Typically, Talladega Superspeedway is all about being second on the last lap. With the draft dictating so much, when the start-finish line comes into view, the trailing driver has the advantage and the lead car is pretty much defenseless.
In a two-car tandem, that trailing car can pull out of line and create a drag on the front car. That move shoots the rear car around into the front, which explains its nickname — the slingshot — which 10-time winner Dale Earnhardt Sr. had down to a science.
Busch was sitting there in second Sunday, licking his chops. The day before he’d had the slingshot move pulled on him by his Nationwide teammate Joey Logano.
But Keselowski was licking his, too. He had that super-secret move.
“I thought about it and thought about it, dreamed about what to do,” he said, “and sure enough, going into three, it was me and Kyle.”
Before Busch could pull off the slingshot, Keselowski moved high, subjecting Busch to the air he’d tucked under his back bumper. That sudden aerodynamic change was enough to create separation between the two and not allow Busch enough time to make up the momentum that was lost.
Keselowski drove off all but unchallenged to his second Talladega Superspeedway win. His first was surprising as well, coming in 2009 running for James Finch in one of NASCAR’s smaller teams. The most recent win was the first for a Dodge since Dave Marcis did it in 1976. Both brought a huge smile to the face of his team owner — a significant milestone as the team abandons the automaker next season in favor of Ford cars.
“We’ve been coming here since 1972,” Penske said. “So, it’s a long time to get a race win. It was certainly special.”
The celebratory, all-smiles tone of the winner podium was the exact opposite of when earlier it was occupied by the race’s runner up. The frustration of back-to-back days of runner-up finishes was evident in Busch’s answer to the first question of the post-race interview. When a reporter asked whether Keselowski’s move was smart, Busch was short and anything but sweet.
“I guess so. He won the race, right?” he said. “You answered your own question.”
Ford driver Matt Kenseth finished third, Kasey Kahne fourth and points leader Greg Biffle rounded out the top five.
Many saw Kenseth, winner of the Daytona 500, paired up with his teammate Biffle on the green-white-checkered finish as the one to beat. Kenseth did, too.
“I think we had the winning car,” he said. “Really just didn’t have the winning driver.”
Kenseth gave plenty of credit to Keselowski, but he chalked up his third-place finish to a mistake on his part. With the lead pack bunched up, he said he took his eyes off Biffle, who was tucked in behind, and failed to drag the brake. The mistake created a disconnect between the two, killing their momentum and his chance at the win.
Keselowski was empathetic toward Kenseth’s split-second mistake.
“We’re going 200 miles per hour out there,” he said. “Do you know how many feet per second that is? All it takes is a split second.”
And that’s all it took for Keselowski to make the move that gave him the win. Badgered with questions about the race finish, Busch eventually gave in to a more congratulatory tone. While the move may have surprised him, Busch said he was not surprised it came from Keselowski, who was one of the sport’s hottest drivers last summer.
“He’s certainly no dummy,” Busch said.
Kenseth, seated along side Busch, agreed and offered his own compliments.
“That’s one thing people don’t notice or don’t give him credit for, he works really hard,” Kenseth said. “I think that’s a lot of the reason for his success.”
If people haven’t noticed, it may just be that they haven’t had time. Keselowski, 28-years-old and set to make his 100th career start next week, is only in his third full season in the Sprint Cup series. In that time, he’s won six races and had 14 top fives; all but one of each have come in the past three seasons.
Last season he finished fifth in points.
He said it without conceit, but Keselowski knows he’s got talent. Probably even his mother knows that, too.
“Hell, it’s my job to be good,” he said. “I don’t get paid to suck at this.”
Bran Strickland is the assistant managing editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.