In the most unlikely of race scenarios, Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski overcame a broken ankle suffered just four days ago, took over the lead with just under 20 laps to go and then held off Kyle Busch at the finish to capture the rain-delayed Good Sam RV Insurance 500 Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway on Sunday.
Keselowski was seriously injured in a crash during a test run at Road Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon. The driver of the No. 2 Dodge for Team Penske suffered a broken ankle and was hospitalized following the crash. At the time, it was uncertain if he would be able make the start at Pocono. He obviously gutted through the injury and started 13th in Sunday's Sprint Cup race at the 40-year-old tri-oval racetrack in the eastern Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains known as "The Tricky Triangle."
Denny Hamlin, who pulled off a similar win last season in one of his first races back behind the wheel after having knee surgery, was dominant early on in Sunday's race, leading 65 of the first 124 laps. Joe Gibbs teammate Joey Logano, who started on the pole, held the lead for 39 laps and a third member of the Gibbs team, Kyle Busch added six lead laps of his own for a team total of 110 before the race was red-flagged by rain on lap 124.
The cars were brought in and remained parked on pit road for one hour and 46 minutes until the rain subsided. When the race resumed, most of the leaders came to the pits under yellow for tires, fuel and adjustments, but Keselowski stayed out on track and moved to the lead on the green-flag restart, with Kurt Busch at his side. Keselowski's No. 2 car dropped back to fourth a couple of laps into the restart after the rain delay but continued to stay close to the leaders and was running third with under 30 laps to go in the 500-mile race.
Neither Hamlin nor Logano was able to replicate their fast start after the rain delay. Their teammate Kyle Busch, however, chased and exchanged the lead with his brother, Kurt, until a collision between Kasey Kahne and Juan Pablo Montoya brought out the fifth caution flag of the day. Keselowski stayed out again on old tires, while Hamlin, Carl Edwards and others head to pit road to top off on fuel and get tires.
On the restart on lap 185, Kyle Busch and Keselowski battle for the lead, racing side by side, while Jimmie Johnson drops down low in an attempt to overtake the other two from third. Keselowski pulled away from Kyle Busch, Johnson dropped back to fourth and Kurt Busch took over third. That's the way things remained for the final 15 laps, giving Keselowski his second Sprint Cup win of the season, broken ankle and all. The No. 2 Dodge car led only twice in the race for 19 laps - the final 16, of course, being the most significant.
The 27-year-old Keselowski, from Richmond Hills, Mich., now has three career wins in the Sprint Cup Series in 74 races. He won the STP 400 at Kansas Speedway in early June. His win at Pocono moved him into the top 20 in drivers' points and placed him in good position to claim one of the two wild card spots for the Chase for the Sprint Cup with just five more races to go. The top ten drivers in the points standings after 26 races become automatic qualifiers for the 10-race Chase championship round. The final two qualifying positions go to the drivers in positions 11-20 in the drivers' standings with the most race wins. Keselowski is the only driver currently in that position with more than one victory.
"I'm no hero," Kesleowski said to reporters after Sunday's race at Pocono, referring to his ability to perform at such a high level despite the broken ankle and other injuries he sustained in a race accident earlier in the week. "The heroes are the guys (who) died in Afghanistan this weekend. They're my inspiration this weekend, the things that those guys do.
"I'm glad that we could win today, but those are the heroes. I just drive race cars for a living," he said.
Keselowski's Penske teammate, the elder Busch brother, Kurt, thought there was much more to it than Keselowski was letting on. "It's amazing what the body can do," Busch said. "For him to go through that wreck this week and get back on his horse right away and find success, that's only going to make Brad Keselowski a better racer."
Kyle Busch's second-place finish tied his best Pocono finish, set a year ago last June.
Edwards' seventh-place finish at Pocono enabled the columbia, Mo., native to retain his narrow lead over Johnson in the drivers' standings. It was Edwards' 14th top-ten finish in 21 starts this season driving the No. 99 Ford of Roush Fenway Racing. Clint Bowyer, from Emporia, Kan., came in 18th. He remains 12th in the points standings, but with no wins, which would leave him out of the Chase for the Cup field if it stays that way.
Next weekend the Sprint Cup Series moves further east to Watkins Glen, NY, and a road course test at Watkins Glen International.