Throughout the history of NASCAR, there have been stories of drivers continuing to race even while injured, never giving up the pursuit of victory lane. In 2011 at Pocono, Brad Keselowski added his name to that list. For that reason, the 2011 Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono is the focus of this week’s “Throwback Thursday Theater.”
The week prior to NASCAR’s second trip of the season to Pocono, Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 team, along with Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 team and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s No. 88 team made the trek to Road Atlanta for a test on the winding road course in Georgia in an effort to gain some speed for the upcoming race at Watkins Glen. All seemed to be going well until disaster struck for Keselowski.
Keselowski had a brake bleeder screw break and fall out as he was entering Turn 1 at Road Atlanta, causing him to lose all braking ability and sending his car careening into a concrete Jersey barrier just off of the track at 100 mph. The massive hit would wind up breaking his left ankle and left him battered and bruised from his sternum on down.
Though some drivers would have sat out the upcoming race weekend with an injury like Keselowski’s, that was the furthest thing from his mind heading into Pocono, especially after learning what had happened to a military helicopter in Afghanistan that very week.
“That week, a U.S. military helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, and my cousin, who was in the Armed Forces, knew many of the people who had died. Their sacrifices really made me step back, and put what had happened to me in perspective. Yes, my ankle was broken, but that was dwarfed by what those soldiers had given. I just thought, “Dude, suck it up. Drive the race car,” said Keselowski in a 2014 blog post on his website.
When the race got underway, it looked like Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin would be the two cars to beat, as the two drivers would lead a combined 107 of the first 128 laps of the race, but a caution for rain at lap 124 would change the complexion of the race going forward.
The rain led to a delay of one hour and 40 minutes, but just before the race was red-flagged for the rain, Keselowski and his Team Penske teammate, Kurt Busch, made the decision to come down pit road for fresh tires and fuel, just in case the race went back green. While Keselowski and Kurt Busch came down pit road, the frontrunners decided to stay on track, betting that the race would be called due to the weather.
It turns out that the Team Penske crew chiefs knew what they were doing as the track was dried and the race went back green a short time later.
When the race went back green, Keselowski and Kurt Busch cycled into the race lead when the leaders that had stayed out had to come to pit road for service. Both of the Team Penske cars were able to stay amongst the lead for the next 23 laps before Kyle Busch made his way to the lead with 38 laps to go.
Kyle Busch would lead 21 of the next 22 laps and looked to be the man to beat over the closing laps, but the final caution of the day with 15 laps to go, gave the field one final shot at the lead.
On the final restart, Keselowski was able to power past Kyle Busch as he tried to fend off a hard charging Jimmie Johnson into Turn 1 and as Keselowski found himself back in command of the race lead, it was all Blue Deuce as Keselowski led the final 15 laps ahead of Kyle Busch for his second win of the season, one of the gutsiest performances in recent memory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
While Keselowski and Kyle Busch were crossing the finish line 1-2, two other drivers were having a tussle of their own. Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch were racing hard for third place over the closing laps, beating and banging down the long Pocono straightaways in an effort to clear each other.
When the checkered flag flew, Johnson and Kurt Busch found each other on pit road and had a conversation where they agreed to disagree on what exactly had transpired over those closing laps.
“I’m not going to run people over to pass them, that’s just not me. And I worked on him for however many laps trying to get by him clean, fair and square, and as I got next to him, we had that issue off of Turn 2. So, I’ll just keep filing things away and remember this stuff. There’s a couple of other guys out there that have been pushing their luck too,” said Johnson.
Kurt Busch obviously had a different view of things and explained things from his side after the finish as well, saying:
“We were fast on a fresh race track and then we’d fade. Racing hard with Jimmie at the end, I was racing him, flat out, you want to race? Let’s race. I didn’t know we were supposed to pull over with five to go. Man, I raced him hard, raced him smart, raced him clean and he wants to come over here and bitch about it. He came off the turn and did a jab to me left; I did a jab back to the right. It’s just as clean as ever, as I’ve ever seen it. Why can’t we race each other like this and put on a show for the fans and not have a problem with it? I don’t know.”
Meanwhile in victory lane, Keselowski was gingerly getting out of his car to celebrate his gutsy win.
“It’s not me, it’s good people. It really is. It’s having Paul Wolfe and a team that digs. There are so many people to thank for being in victory lane, from Miller Lite to Sprint to the fans, but I’m no hero. The heroes are the guys that died in Afghanistan this weekend and I want to spend time thinking about them. They were my inspiration for this week and the things that those guys do. Glad that we could win today, but those are the heroes. I just drive race cars for a living,” said Keselowski.