CONCORD, N.C. – The caution that sent the Coca-Cola 600 to overtime both continued Chase Elliott’s bad week and gave Brad Keselowski a much-needed break.
Keselowski is in a contract year during a season disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Business was closed for 10 weeks, meaning zero movement between Keselowski and Team Penske.
The first driver to give Roger Penske a NASCAR championship – first in the Xfinity Series and then, finally, in 2012, a Cup title – has been idling all year year. Then a caution with two laps remaining at Charlotte Motor Speedway cluttered Elliott’s clear path to the win and gave Keselowski an opening.
Elliott pitted and Keselowski’s new crew chief Jeremy Bullins called for his driver to stay on track, cycle into the lead and try to out-muscle seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson in a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish.
“We just committed to taking the front row and take a shot at the restart,” Bullins said. “Not many people I’d rather have in that situation than Brad.”
Keselowski got a terrific launch, cleared Johnson and pulled away for the Memorial Day victory. Indianapolis 500 victories by Will Power and Simon Pagenaud in 2018 and 2019, paired with Keselowski’s steal in the 600, gave Penske three consecutive Memorial Day weekend wins.
Now Keselowski returns to Charlotte Motor Speedway for a Wednesday night race and a shot at consecutive victories. Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and then Keselowski have won the three Cup races since the season resumed.
Bullins is bringing a new Ford built by Team Penske. This is a big stretch for the No. 2 team to prove it should remain intact beyond this season. The financial losses during the pandemic will likely cause yet another driver salary reset and Keselowski, the only Cup champion available, is probably at the highest end of free agent salaries.
Roger Penske said the pandemic has prevented any meetings with Keselowski.
Keselowski believes he and Bullins are settling in well after four races to start the season, the shutdown, and now four races in 11 days. Bullins previously worked with Keselowski in the Xfinity Series and said the foundation is strong.
“There’s always been a good trust and good relationship with him,” Bullins said. “I know where he’s coming from. I feel like we understand each other well. We’ve always worked together well. It was kind of like we hit the ground running again.
“It took a couple races to figure out the feel that he needed in the cars, what we needed to do better for him. I feel like we’ve been getting a lot closer with that every week.”
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