Keselowski hoping 14th times the charm for Sunday’s Daytona 500, why a win will complete his triple crown

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — There are five former NASCAR Cup Series champions competing in Sunday’s Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN). All are still looking for a victory in the sport’s grandest race. Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch have six season titles among themselves but a combined zero wins in the Great American Race.

For one of which, he’s been so close, yet so far away from crossing that finish line at the World Center of Racing.

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 season champion will line up 10th on the grid Sunday. He’s 0-for-13 in the annual NASCAR season opener with only three top 10s to show for it. His best finish in the 500 is third in 2014.

He says that Daytona is like Indianapolis in a sense that maybe this 2.5-mile track also picks it’s winners too.

“The DAYTONA 500, to me over the years, has probably been more focused on the speed of the cars and the willingness of the drivers to make bold moves,” Keselowski said. “I think, accordingly, I haven’t been able to close the 500 out. We’ve had really fast cars and caught some really poor breaks and then there have been some races where I felt like I didn’t execute at a high enough level. I think there’s probably a little mixture of all those things on why I haven’t been able to win this race.”

Keselowski has 37 points paying in NASCAR’s premiere series. 6 of them have occurred at Talladega. He’s also won the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in July of 2016 as well as the Clash in 2019 here plus a Duel win a year ago.

It’s just that the ‘500 has escaped him. If he can get there on Sunday, it will complete the cycle of crown jewel’s on NASCAR’s schedule.

“It’s the last crown jewel I don’t have,” Keselowski added. “I’ve got the championship, the Brickyard [at Indianapolis] and the Southern 500 (at Darlington, S.C.) and the Bristol Night races and the Talladegas. Those mean the world to me, they really do, but the DAYTONA 500 is still the biggest race of the year no matter how you look at it and it still stings to not have it. It stings to have been so close in so many different ways.”

Keselowski, now an owner with the Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing team, was fastest in the No. 6 Ford in Saturday’s final DAYTONA 500 practice at 191.201 mph. He has a fast race car. Can he just stay out of trouble?

He led 67 laps in last year’s race and was in the hunt at the end. The year prior, he was running second on the final lap before a crash just one mile from the finish with teammate Joey Logano. Those haunt him. He says however, that as far as why he’s won so much at Talladega and not Daytona is because in Talladega, you can control the third or fourth placed cars better. You can’t do so as much in Daytona.

Maybe that changes Sunday.

Keselowski found practice in the draft with his fellow Ford drivers extremely productive.

“The best practice is not when you get it right; it’s when you can’t get it wrong,” Keselowski said. “I think we’re practicing to where we can’t get it wrong and looking for any little hole and what we have to be able (to do) to remedy it.

Keselowski ran 14 laps during the session while his RFK Racing teammate, Chris Buescher, remained in the garage.

“I think Chris’ car was dialed in really well and they were in a great spot, and they still are in a great spot,” Keselowski explained. “I was a little less happy with mine and wanted to try to find something, so I’m happy to put that work in this morning to see if we could find it—and I feel like we did.”

AJ Allmendinger was fastest among the Chevrolet drivers and seventh fastest overall at 190.811 mph. For the driver of the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet, practice was another chance to learn and gain familiarity with the NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen car, and it helped Allmendinger set his strategy for Sunday’s race.

“I think, as we’ve all seen, it’s hard to get a third line working around here,” Allmendinger said. “In the past, I was always one of those guys that would kind of just sit back early on in the race and just let it develop. Some of it, at those times, maybe I didn’t quite have the speed to consistently run up front. So, it was more about trying to time when to get up front and stay there at the end of the race.

“With this car, I feel like you have to have more track position early on. So, with 100 laps to go—I think 60 to 70 to go—you need your track position. It’s hard to try to get back up there. What I fought in the (Thursday’s) Duel was I felt like we were pretty decent, but it’s just hard to make moves. So, I think trying to get up front—however we do that—and obviously trying to stay there, especially after halfway, is going to be really critical.”

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