Heading into Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma, Brad Keselowski had never finished better than 10th in seven previous starts on the 1.990-mile road course, but now the 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion can mark down a top-five in the record book after bringing home a third place finish.
“The Freightliner Ford was really good today,” said Keselowski. “We didn’t have the qualifying fun we wanted. We had amazing race pace. That’s a credit to everyone at Team Penske. It felt really good. I just wish I could run this race again I think I might have had better car than driver today and I learned a lot. Just an amazing fun day.”
Starting back in 23rd, Keselowski had his work cut out for him to start the day and although he climbed as high as second at one point in the first stage, he would finish the first 25 laps all the way back in 28th after getting some minor damage in two different incidents.
Even with poor track position, Keselowski showed how much speed he had in his Ford throughout the second stage as he would finish the second 25-lap segment in second place before pitting and starting the final stage where he started the race from, 23rd.
Halfway through the final stage, green flag pit stops were cycling through, but crew chief Brian Wilson, who was filling in for Paul Wolfe this weekend as Wolfe was back home for the birth of his child, decided to keep Keselowski out for an extended period of time, allowing him to take over the race lead at lap 72 of 110.
Keselowski would lead the next 17 laps before being caught by eventual race winner Kevin Harvick, who had much fresher tires than Keselowski did at that point.
After giving up the lead to Harvick, Keselowski finally made his final pit stop at lap 94 and once again found himself outside the top-10 with 15 laps remaining to be able to make a run back through the field.
Running faster times than many of his competitors, Keselowski knocked off car after car as the laps wound down, eventually finding himself in third place when the checkered flag flew for a 1-2-3 finish for Ford and his best finish ever on the California road course.
“You have to be patient and have to believe in your team because you know they can see things you can’t and obviously they made they made the right call to stay out there long,” Keselowski said about the strategy employed by his team. “And when we decided to come in and get tire we were able to move up the field quickly. A few more laps we could have gotten up to second.”
Keselowski will now look to carry his momentum from Sonoma to Daytona, where he looks to score back to back wins in the July 4th weekend classic.