DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Brad Keselowski boldly proclaimed before the start of Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona Int’l Speedway that he would win the race after crew chief Paul Wolfe drew the last starting position, and he backed his statement up with a resounding win by race’s end.
Keselowski cycled to the lead for the first time following pit stops at the race’s lap 25 competition break and controlled the second segment from start to finish, leading 43 of the final 48 laps en route to his first-career win in the annual non-points exhibition event, which featured pole winners and playoff drivers from the previous season.
The Michigan native gave himself an early birthday present — he turns 34 on Monday — and scored Team Penske’s second-straight Clash win after teammate Joey Logano won the 2017 edition of the event.
Not only did Sunday’s Clash put Keselowski’s Speedweeks confidence at an all-time high, it also afforded him some redemption after he crashed on the last lap of last year’s Clash while racing Denny Hamlin for the win, allowing Logano to sneak through the chaos on that day.
“Man, this feels really good!” Keselowski said in victory lane. “Last year, we started first and it didn’t go our way. We were joking after the draw … that because this year we got last, it would be the year that we win it and sure enough, here we are. It’s a great way to start the season with the Miller Lite Ford and I’m happy for everyone on my team.”
Sunday marked Keselowski’s first-ever triumph of any kind during Daytona Speedweeks
“This is the first time I’ve won anything in Speedweeks. Before I feel like I’ve choked them away. Definitely a good day and I’m really thankful for the team. A completely different package than what we’ve had at Daytona ever here before. The guys had to show up with a way different car and that’s a testament to everybody at Team Penske to work on it and do that. Good day, great start to this season and two more to go.”
Following Saturday night’s random draw for starting position, Austin Dillon and Hamlin led the field to the green flag, with Dillon edging ahead to pace the opening lap before Hamlin took command on the second round with a shove from teammate Erik Jones.
By the end of lap five, Dillon had drifted back to eighth, while a Toyota breakaway out front saw Hamlin, Jones and Martin Truex Jr. pull the high lane out single-file in the early going.
A scary moment for Kyle Larson on the seventh round saw him try to duck low and nearly spin going into the first turn, but he saved the car and continued on, while the inside groove finally found its momentum on lap 10 and saw Chase Elliott seize the lead on the backstretch with a huge inside-outside swap after a shove from Dillon and Logano.
A resurgent charge from polesitter Dillon saw him meet Elliott in a dead heat on the 15th round, taking back the lead outright one lap later before he, Elliott and Logano engaged in a see-saw jockey for the top spot heading towards the break.
But with most of the field peeling off for pit stops right as lap 25 went on the board, it was actually Larson who was credited with the race lead as the yellow flag flew, with Keselowski and Elliott leading the field back to green to start the final stage with 46 laps to go.
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