Brad Keselowski's title push gains steam by missing crash

dscott@charlotteobserver.comOctober 9, 2012 

— Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Dodge took a few small hits in the last-lap, multi-car accident during Sunday’s Good Sam 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.

And while his Penske Racing team argued with NASCAR that Keselowski should have been scored higher than his eventual seventh-place finish, he still comes to Charlotte this week with a relatively comfortable lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings.

Keselowski will take a 14-point lead into Saturday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. That seventh-place finish allowed Keselowski to increase his lead over Johnson – who didn’t make out nearly as well in the wreck and finished 17th – by nine points.

“That’s pretty big,” said Keselowski. “I just feel lucky to survive Talladega. There’s still a lot of racing left. At least we’re not fighting from a hole.”

Making it through that final, inevitable wreck was a huge break for Keselowski, whose car was hit from behind by Bobby Labonte’s car but otherwise was unscathed.

The blow from Labonte knocked Keselowski onto the apron of the track, where he had to bring his car back up to speed before finishing.

“We were four-wide for about 21/2 straight laps and it’s just a matter of time before your wreck,” said Keselowski. “And it happens – but that’s just Talladega. I ran the bottom lane knowing that (a crash) was going to happen and that I could at least escape (it) and I did. It’s not really how I wanted to escape it. I wanted to win the race.”

Although crew chief Paul Wolfe and team owner Roger Penske argued Keselowski should have finished fourth, NASCAR officials saw it differently.

“We score it by all means,” said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR’s vice president of competition. “There’s a lot of video and we take into account maintaining reasonable pace and other things. It’s all interpretation. You see which cars are trying to merge in. When you have a wreck with those numbers (25 cars), there are guys trying to avoid it, sliding to avoid it. There are highly and moderately damaged cars. Once we walked through the scenarios, everybody was pleased with we came up with.”

Pemberton also addressed postrace criticism by drivers such as Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who are unhappy with the nature of the risky racing at restrictor-plate tracks at Talladega and Daytona Beach, Fla. That resulted in Sunday’s wild, final-turn crash.

“I’ve been down here for over 60 races,” said Pemberton “Everybody has comments about different race tracks. Some of them don’t like road courses. Some don’t like restrictor-plate tracks. That’s why we have different venues. They don’t always have their best races at those places. Everybody has their opinion. That’s fine.”

Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14

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