DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — On Dec. 28, 2021, Brad Keselowski tweeted his five goals for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season. Listed second was “Win Daytona 500 or Michigan race.”
That’s a common goal for the Michigan native, who in 12 prior attempts at winning the Great American Race, has been on the side of heartbreak. The most laps he’d ever led in the race was in 2020, pacing the field for 30 circuits.
Entering the 2022 season, there were a lot of question marks about Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing. Following the 2021 season finale at Phoenix Raceway, Keselowski departed Team Penske to chase another lifelong dream of his, to own a Cup team.
Some of those questions — at least on superspeedways — were answered on Thursday evening (Feb. 17). Keselowski won the first of two Bluegreen Vacations Duel races, capturing his first checkered flag in the Duel events.
That set him to start third on Sunday. And by the end of the opening lap, it was the No. 6 Ford that paced the field. His former ride, the No. 2 car of Austin Cindric pushed Keselowski, where he would go on to lead a chunk of the first stage. At the end of the opening 65 laps, he was second, earning nine stage points.
That didn’t come without some controversy, however, as Keselowski was pushing rookie Harrison Burton down the backstretch on lap 61. The No. 21 Ford got sideways, and flipped through the air landing on all four wheels.
Major names involved a #Daytona500 wreck near the end of stage one including @WilliamByron, @KyleBusch, @dennyhamlin, & @Alex_Bowman.@HBurtonRacing got the worst of it going for a full flip. pic.twitter.com/muHzo4VIol
— Xfinity Racing (@XfinityRacing) February 20, 2022
It was an aggressive push, but not one uncommon from the first 60 laps.
“I was just pushing and it just turned sideways and spun immediately out,” Keselowski told Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports and Kelly Crandell of Racer.com after the race. “I don’t know what happened there. It was a shame to see it. I was trying to help him win the stage and certainly didn’t want to see him spin out.”
That push led to an eight-car pileup, which included heavyhitters Denny Hamlin, William Byron and Alex Bowman.
With minimal damage, Keselowski went on to lead additional laps. But with five laps remaining, the No. 6 Ford got into the rear of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. towards the front of the field. Keselowski’s teammate Chris Buescher was also caught up in the melee.
“I was just pushing,” Keselowski stated. “We weren’t even all the way up to speed, so I feel like it was a crazy time to be pushing, but obviously the results say different.”
When asked if he was overly aggressive, Keselowski didn’t shy away. He said, “Whenever somebody spins out obviously there’s somebody over aggressive, but in the moment I didn’t.”
After the Stenhouse wreck, Keselowski was slated to restart fourth on a green-white-checkered finish. With Team Penske teammates Austin Cindric and Ryan Blaney working together from the front row, that put the No. 6 car in the catbird seat, first car on the outside.
With a push from Chase Briscoe over the final two laps, Keselowski had a head of steam coming to the white flag. He thought he was in a good position the final lap.
“I thought down the backstretch we were gonna win the race and just the [Nos.] 12 and the 2 got a really good push from the [No.] 23 and basically cleared our lane and then our lane kind of broke up there at the end,” Keselowski said. “It was really close, just green-white-checkers.”
Now being 0-13 — the fifth longest streak of active drivers — in the Daytona 500, Keselowski was proud of his team’s effort during Speedweeks. He believed wholeheartedly the No. 6 team left it all out on the track, though didn’t want to see Buescher’s car get torn up in the Stenhouse incident.
As for his former No. 2 team winning the race, Keselowski was stoked for Cindric.
“I’m happy for them,” he said. “There’s a great group of people over there and they deserve all their success.”
Keselowski ended the race in ninth, sliding across the infield grass after the checkered flag when colliding with David Ragan and Michael McDowell. It’s his best finish in the Great American Race since 2014, when he finished third.