Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images via NASCAR

Regarding Keselowski, Johnson, Pastrana at Daytona

By Matt Weaver, Special Contributor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Brad Keselowski was released from the infield care center at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday night and proceeded to walk directly to his waiting golf cart and set sail into the distance.

The disappointment was palpable.

Keselowski led six times for a race high 42 laps in the Daytona 500. It is the only remaining omission from his NASCAR Cup Series resume. The No. 6 he co-owns at RFK Racing was the dominant force of the afternoon.

It was quickest in final practice on Saturday and Keselowski backed it up throughout the race. The 2012 champion could literally drive his car through the field like no one else. When linked up with teammate Chris Buescher, the pair of Ford Mustangs were untouchable up front, at least until five laps to go.

That’s when the Richard Childress Racing duo of Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon drafted past them.

But a caution right before the white flag eventually saw to it that none of the above would win the race. In fact, Keselowski, Busch and Dillon were all eliminated in subsequent crashes. Buescher finished fourth with less disappointment than his boss, but disappointment nevertheless.

At 39 years old, there’s more road behind Keselowski than ahead of him, which surely contributes to the mood of the evening.

Photo: Walter G. Arce/ASP, Inc.


For a moment, it looked like a classic Jimmie Johnson race, one where he methodically works his way through the field and is ready to strike when the figurative pay window opens.

Remember his seventh and final Cup Series championship race? Kind of like that.

Approaching the final 10 laps, Johnson was just outside the top-10 and was pushing towards a top-5 approaching five laps to go, before getting shuffled again outside of the top-10. He was 12th on the penultimate restart when William Byron and Austin Dillon collided in front of him, leaving him nowhere to go.

He drove right into the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 and was eliminated from the race.

“Those restarts, we knew that everyone was going to be pushing hard to try to have their shot to win,” Johnson said. “I don’t know what went wrong in my lane, but before I knew it, I saw the side of the 24 car and I knew we were going to be in big trouble.

“I missed the first couple of cars spinning and almost got through it. But you know, plate racing, this kind of stuff happens and all in all, just a fun day.”

Driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club, the rebranded Petty GMS team that he purchased an ownership stake into last autumn, Johnson said it was good to be in the mix in a NASCAR race again.

He’s spent the past two seasons driving IndyCar and IMSA and plans to make a handful of starts this season in his No. 84.

“I had a blast,” Johnson said. “That was fun. It was so nice not worrying about stage points. I even got a few. I wasn’t worried about anything but trying to get to the finish for the checkered flag.

“I was one lap away.”

Did he think he had a shot once he raced inside the top-10?

“Anything can happen,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think I had the outright speed to pull out and lead a line and fend people off, but the car drove so well. I could take a push. I could give a push. I felt like I was going to be someone’s best friend up until a hundred yards and then try to hang him out to dry, but I just didn’t get there.”

Johnson was fastest in Friday practice said he immediately felt comfortable in the car by the end of the Duel on Thursday and is ready to make additional starts. One of those appearances will come in July on the Streets of Chicago but the remaining dates are TBA.

“It will be before Chicago,” Johnson said. “I know that, but we’re getting close.”

Photo: James Gilbert/Getty Images via NASCAR


“This exceeded all of my expectations as far as results,” Pastrana said. “These are the best drivers in the world. I’m not a great rear-wheel driver, I’m not a great pavement driver. Restrictor plate racing is a little different. We had a great team with this 23XI Toyota team, and it was an honor to be on the track with these guys.

“It was amazing that we were able to put it in the top-20. I’m proud of everyone involved and so thankful to be here.”

Is this a one-off?

“One and done,” Pastrana said. “Now if Cody (Efaw) from Niece Motorsports calls me up and says, ‘Hey, what are you doing this weekend,’ I’ll jump in.

“But I’m not good enough to be the best at this sport with my skill set. The amount of time that this would take right now and I’m trying to slow down. The reason I’m here right now is because I feel like this is the best I’ve ever been as a driver. We’ve been winning championships on the dirt, and I just wanted to experience the whole Daytona Speedweeks.”

Pastrana called the past two weeks one of the best of his life. He opened Florida Speedweeks racing a dirt modified for the first time at Volusia Racewau with Matt Crafton, winning a feature in just his third start.

The family of the late Ken Block came to Daytona 500 qualifying just to support his effort to make the show.

“As excited as I am right now, I might sleep for the next week,” Pastrana said. “I am mentally and physically completely drained. Even the Truck race, my heart rate was 170 in a three-wide pack. 182 was my high. That’s just on adrenaline

“So, anyone that says NASCAR is boring, they’re full of crap. They’ve definitely never been in a car because this was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done.”

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