LONG POND, Pa. — Brad Keselowski was inspired Sunday by a relative in the Navy Seals, and that was all he needed to push through his painful ankle injury.
Keselowski’s cousin lost a friend who was one of 30 American service members who died when their helicopter was shot down during fighting in eastern Afghanistan. The NASCAR driver took the sacrifice to heart, and vowed he would not leave his car no matter how bad he hurt.
So Keselowski went out and raced all 500 miles of the Sprint Cup stop at Pocono Raceway with a broken left ankle.
As if that wasn’t enough, he somehow managed to win, too.
Competing with a brace on his ankle, Keselowski sped off on the final restart late in the race to pick up his second victory of the season. He gingerly climbed out of his car to celebrate with his crew in Victory Lane.
He dedicated the victory — one that thrust him into Chase contention — to the troops in Afghanistan.
“I might not be feeling great, but those are the guys that are really making sacrifices,” Keselowski said. “Whenever I got in the car and felt like, man, this really hurts, it was good inspiration as to what it takes to ‘man up’ and make it happen.”
Keselowski was an unlikely winner after he crashed head-on into a wall on Wednesday during a test session at Road Atlanta. He slammed a section of wall at 100 mph and was forced out of the Nationwide Series race.
He insisted during practice this weekend he wouldn’t leave the No. 2 Dodge, no matter the aches and pain.
No relief driver was necessary, though Keselowski had some rest during a 1 hour, 40-minute rain delay.
“I was amazed he raced the full race,” third-place finisher Kurt Busch said.
Keselowski’s victory placed him in prime position to claim one of two wild-card spots available for the Chase for the championship. The top two drivers with the most victories in 11th to 20th place earn a wild-card spot for the playoffs.
Keselowski, in 18th place, is the only one of the wild-card contenders with two victories. Only five races remain until the field is set. The top 10 drivers in the points standings automatically qualify.
“It gives us pretty high odds if we’re playing poker,” he said.
Keselowski posted several updates on his injury this week on his Twitter page, including two photos that showed a swollen ankle and an abrasion on his foot. His broken left ankle ballooned to the size of a softball, and he needed a left shoe a size larger than his right one.
“There’s no good time, but this is certainly the worst time,” he said Friday.
No way. Keselowski won his third career Cup race and first since he won in June at Kansas.
“I came here to win,” he said. “When you let the pain get into your head that far that you don’t believe you can win anymore, you can’t win the race.”
Kyle Busch was second, Jimmie Johnson fourth and Ryan Newman fifth.
Kurt Busch and Johnson had a heated exchange after the race because of some last-lap contact and had to be separated by their crews. The star drivers took turns bumping into each other on the final lap. Busch said it was simply hard racing and Johnson, the five-time defending Cup champion, overreacted.
“You want to race, let’s race,” Busch said. “I raced him smart, raced him clean, and he wants to come back here and (complain) about it. Why can’t we race each other like this and put on a show for the fans?”
There was a racing tripleheader after rain halted the Trucks Series race on Saturday and wiped out the ARCA race. Kevin Harvick won the Trucks race, Ty Dillon took ARCA and Keselowski capped it all with his gutsy performance.
“There are moments in our sport that need to be documented as an ‘Iron Man’ type of day,” Kurt Busch said. “It’s amazing what the body can do.”
Rain hit Pocono hard the last two days and when the red flag came on lap 125, Joey Logano had the lead. He took a break in the ESPN broadcast booth where he was asked if he wanted the rain to stop or keep coming.
“I think it’s a dumb question,” he said.
Logano faded hard after a blown tire and finished 26th. Points leader Carl Edwards, who signed a multiyear extension with Roush Fenway Racing, was seventh.
Once the rain stopped, Kyle Busch build a sizable lead until it was wiped out on a final caution.
That was the opening Keselowski needed over the final 16 laps and he took advantage — even with only one good ankle.
“It doesn’t feel good, but I’ll be all right,” he said.
Stenhouse wins at Nationwide
NEWTON, Iowa — This was one time Ricky Stenhouse Jr. didn’t mind being wrecked by a teammate.
The smoke billowing from Stenhouse’s blown engine as he approached the checkered flag blinded Carl Edwards and his Roush Fenway Racing teammate rammed into him, inadvertently sending Stenhouse to victory in a wild finish to the NASCAR Nationwide race Saturday night.
“If he wouldn’t have hit us, we would have definitely ended up second. I knew we would have had enough momentum to get there. I just wasn’t sure if we were going to be first or second,” Stenhouse said. “You definitely don’t want to win them like that. You don’t want to tear up a race car, but you definitely want to win.”
Stenhouse appeared set to cruise to his second win at Iowa this year when the No. 6 car blew an engine with the checkered flag in sight. With the smoke obscuring Edwards’ view and oil on the track, he slammed into Stenhouse and shoved him across the finish line.
Stenhouse crossed the line sideways, becoming the first Nationwide series regular to win two races this year.
Edwards wound up second, his No. 60 car torn to shreds as well.
“That’s the most amazing finish I’ve been involved with in a long time. That was spectacular,” Edwards said.
Pole sitter Elliott Sadler was third, followed by Josh Wise and Aric Amirola.
For once, luck was on Stenhouse’s side.
Stenhouse led all but 15 laps last week in Indianapolis before losing to Brad Keselowski. He led just 25 laps in Iowa, but those were the only ones that mattered.
Stenhouse made contact with Edwards earlier in the race — leaving hard feelings on both sides — then captured the lead from Edwards and Sadler with a bold move to the inside. He held it until the end, though he got some unexpected help from his teammate to do it.
“I think saw a bunch of opportunity for things to go horribly wrong there for Roush Fenway and for Carl and for Ricky. Happily the tempers didn’t rise above the boiling point and everything is OK,” team owner Jack Roush said.
Edwards, who announced earlier this week that he had signed a multiyear extension with Roush Fenway earlier this week, led for 109 laps after starting 17th.
Edwards dropped all the way to 16th after a sloppy pit stop, though he quickly moved back into the front of the pack to set up the memorable finish.
The earlier contact between Edwards and Stenhouse stirred up some issues that’ll have to be worked out in the near future, but Edwards insisted things were “fine” between the two.
“(Roush) came over and said ‘Hey, this is exactly what’s supposed to be happening. You’re supposed to have a young guy that’s fast, that’s frustrating everybody because he’s too aggressive and that’s all that’s going on with Ricky,” Edwards said. “He’s just being a little bit overaggressive. And in the end, it’s almost better that he doesn’t figure out that he’s too aggressive because that’s going to make him better.”
Sadler took his third pole of the season earlier Saturday and started on the front row with Trevor Bayne — who won the pole in Iowa in 2010 and finished fourth. Bayne spent 12 laps in front before a tire issue midway through the race sent him two laps down. He finished 25th.
Sadler quickly fell back and didn’t appear to be a factor until coming out of seemingly nowhere to grab the lead with 60 laps left. He might have won, too, had the wreck between Stenhouse and Edwards not happened on the final lap.
“I want to talk to the Iowa race track and see if they can’t make it 251 laps next year,” Sadler said.
Saturday night’s Nationwide race was the second of the year at Iowa Speedway. It was the first time the series ran twice in the same year in Iowa, but attendance was as strong as ever.
Officials needed temporary seats to accommodate a standing-room only crowd of just over 48,000. The packed house was a nice sight for the series, which saw Nashville announce this week that it was pulling out in 2012.
They got to see a finish they won’t soon forget — from a pair of teammates at each other’s necks all night.
“We both race really hard. It doesn’t matter who it is. We both want to win,” Stenhouse said.