Keselowski, Team Penske cruise in Sunday’s Clash
By Rick Minter
Brad Keselowski got the first Speedweeks win of his career with a victory in Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash, a non-points event for pole winners from the previous season and other top drivers.
Keselowski, driving the No. 2 Ford for Team Penske, started last due to a random draw of starting positions, but wound up leading 43 of the race’s 75 laps, including the final 37, to lead a Ford sweep of the top four finishing positions.
Keselowski’s fellow Team Penske drivers, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney, finished second and fourth, respectively, while Kurt Busch from Stewart-Haas Racing finished third.
“I have never won anything during Speedweeks, and I feel like I have choked them away, to be quite honest,” Keselowski said in his Victory Lane interview. “You need one to break through. Hopefully, this is our breakthrough.”
The Clash was one of the first real tests of the new NASCAR rules that allow teams to run whatever rear ride heights and rear springs they choose.
The cars are running much lower in the rear, and many drivers said they are more difficult to drive.
“The cars are a handful,” Keselowski said. “They are supposed to be.
“This is professional racing, and they are supposed to be hard to drive. This was no exception. This is probably the hardest I have ever had to drive a car at Daytona, but I am not complaining.”
Keselowski explained that, as with many other rule changes from NASCAR, teams quickly find ways to make the cars faster, yet still stay within those rules.
“You would think with the ride heights dropped down that conventional wisdom says the cars would drive better, but basically, it’s allowed everyone to trim the cars out so much for speed that then the handling goes away,” he said. “The cars are running faster.”
Kurt Busch said the Clash was a good test for the upcoming Can-Am Duels and the Daytona 500.
“Project No. 1 was to do all the laps so that we could understand more about our tires and our setup and the way that the car was going to handle,” he said. “Then, step No. 2 was to have fun. I had a blast.”
Denny Hamlin offered a more detailed explanation of the changed handling characteristics of the cars.
“It’s so much different because, typically, as your car comes out of the corner, the rear spoiler comes up and the car gains downforce,” he said. “Well, these cars are so planted to the racetrack, we’re doing everything we can to get the spoiler out of the air, which in turn means less grip.”
He added that the difficulty of driving the cars will be more noticeable in the 500, when the pack is three wide and the tires are getting worn.
“It will be tough for drivers to hold their lanes with the cars down as low as they are,” he said. “So we’re just going to play it by ear. … It’s going to be different. The Daytona 500 will be different.”
The Clash ended under caution with a multi-car crash that was triggered when Kyle Larson bumped Jimmie Johnson from behind in an attempt to boost him in the draft.
Larson took the full blame. “Yes race fans I caused that one,” Larson wrote on Twitter. “I admitted it and apologized. Lots of learning about new package that race that race. … Got some work to do before 500.”