Keselowski dominant late at Darlington
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
Brad Keselowski scored two victories this past weekend at Darlington Raceway, a track where he’d never before won in any series. Keselowki capitalized late in both the Xfinity and Monster Energy Cup series races when the No. 42 Chevy owned by Chip Ganassi, which dominated both events with drivers Ross Chastain in Xfinity and Kyle Larson in Cup, respectively, fell by the wayside.
But in the overall picture, the weekend’s biggest winner was the track itself, as NASCAR’s original superspeedway continues to pack its grandstands with a successful throwback-themed weekend.
Darlington, which hosted its first Cup race in 1950, once appeared on a path to suffer a similar fate to North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham and North Wilkesboro Speedway, both of which were once-popular venues but now are idle ghost tracks.
In 2004, Darlington lost its marquee Labor Day weekend race date to Auto Club Speedway in California, then lost its second race date the following year.
The track eventually was left with a race on the Saturday night before Mother’s Day, a date once considered unworkable.
But the employees of the track kept working, and the fans kept coming, and in 2015, Darlington got its Labor Day weekend date back.
Between the date reinstatement and the throwback weekend, Darlington has become one of the highlights of the season for a sport struggling with declining at-track attendance and TV viewership.
On Sunday night, the grandstands were packed with enthusiastic fans, and the weekend included appearances by numerous NASCAR Hall of Fame members who participated in fan events and a parade.
In the winner’s interview Sunday night, Keselowski spoke about what it meant to win at Darlington.
“This is such a special race track,” he said. “It always has been, and I think it always will be.
“And when we added in all this retro stuff a few years ago, it’s like a spark that just reignited this track as just being stupid-cool.”
To make the win even more special, Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford was decked out in a paint scheme reminiscent of the Miller Genuine Draft colors once used by NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace, who spent much of his career driving for Keselowski’s team owner, Roger Penske.
Amazingly, Wallace never won at Darlington, and Penske hadn’t won there since 1975, when Bobby Allison drove his AMC Matador to victory in the Southern 500.
“To win here and to win wearing Rusty’s colors and driving his car, I kind of feel like I’m in a dream from when I was 10 years old,” Keselowski said. “It’s something that I’ll carry forever. It’s probably the biggest win of my career, especially with it being a weekend sweep at one of the toughest tracks on the circuit.”
Kyle Larson, who finished third behind the Team Penske duo of Keselowski and Joey Logano, left Darlington heartbroken after dominating the 500, winning both of the first two stages and leading a race-high 284 laps.
But on the race’s final pit stop, Keselowski’s crew was just a tick of the stopwatch quicker, and he beat Larson off pit road. Once the green flag was displayed, Keselowski drove away unchallenged, leading the final 22 laps to score his 25th career Cup victory.
It was Larson’s second straight finish of second or third and his seventh of the season. For his career, he has 31 finishes of second or third with just five victories.
On Saturday, Larson saw his Ganassi teammate Ross Chastain lead the most laps but lose out on a chance for victory in the Xfinity race, but he took some satisfaction in the fact that both cars went far.
“It was cool to see both cars like that, leading a bunch of laps … but at the same time, coming up short like we have a lot of times with [sponsor DC Solar] on our car is disappointing,” Larson said. “I felt like from the first run on the track on Friday, I knew we were going to have a pretty good weekend. …
“Just wish we could have got the win.”
Photo: Sarah Crabill/Getty Images for NASCAR