Keselowski Ends 110-Race Drought In Darlington ‘Dogfight’

Keselowski

Brad Keselowski celebrates in victory lane Sunday at Darlington Raceway. (Jacob Seelman photo)

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Brad Keselowski has been seeking the keys to victory lane ever since he became a co-owner of RFK Racing. Sunday at Darlington Raceway, he was finally able to open the gate.

In a multi-faceted thriller at the Track Too Tough to Tame, Keselowski rose to the top late in the Goodyear 400, shining inside the final 70 laps of a gritty, hard-fought NASCAR Cup Series race.

He took the lead for the first time under green at lap 226, driving past race-long dominator Tyler Reddick with a superior long-run car, then engaged in a must-watch, cat-and-mouse duel from there on.

After a spin by Kyle Larson bunched the field back up late, Keselowski and Reddick raced side-by-side for nearly four straight laps following a lap-261 restart, with neither giving an inch in pursuit of the victory.

The pair finally came together in turn four on lap 264, breaking their momentum enough to allow Keselowski’s teammate Chris Buescher to go three-wide and pass them both on the inside lane.

At that stage, it appeared Buescher might be able to put the demons of his near-miss at Kansas Speedway behind him, but he couldn’t drive away from Reddick and Keselowski and slowly saw them grow larger and larger in his rear-view mirror in the closing stages.

With 15 to go, the top three were within eight tenths of a second, and at the 10-to-go benchmark Reddick was on Buescher’s back bumper and ready to make a move for the win.

He tried a dive-bomb pass entering turn three with nine laps left, but couldn’t get clear of the No. 17 and slid up into Buescher, pinching the No. 17 into the outside wall and cutting a tire on both cars.

That forced both Buescher and Reddick to pit road, putting the race back into Keselowski’s hands for the final nine circuits. The 2012 Cup Series champion took the checkers 1.214 seconds ahead of Ty Gibbs.

It snapped a 110-race winless drought dating back to April 25, 2021, at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway – a span of 1,113 days – and gave Keselowski his long-awaited first victory as a driver/owner.

“What a heck of a day,” said Keselowski. “It's Darlington, so whether it’s your first win, your last win, this is a really special track. The history of NASCAR, it’s as tough as it gets, and that battle at the end with my teammate and Tyler Reddick … we just laid it all out on the line. That was freaking awesome.

“I thought it couldn't get much better than Kansas, but I feel like it did today,” he added. “That really was awesome. I'm so glad [the fans] got to see that. It was incredible.”

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By Darlington’s often hard-nosed standards, Sunday’s race was surprisingly calm. The 90-lap first stage ran caution free, but the 95-lap second stage featured three cautions for incident.

John Hunter Nemechek’s spin on the frontstretch at lap 121 set the stage for a lap-129 restart where a three-wide move by William Byron created contact that led to a crash between Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. at the exit of turn two.

Buescher got some slight nose damage in that incident, but was able to forge ahead.

Zane Smith spun into the inside wall on the frontstretch at lap 163, the final interruption before the second stage break at lap 185. Larson and Reddick, respectively, split the two stage wins.

Keselowski Reddick

Brad Keselowski (6) challenges Tyler Reddick for the lead Sunday afternoon at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway. (Jacob Seelman photo)

From lap 95 through lap 225, Reddick was the man in control, but Keselowski’s pass of the No. 45 on the 226th lap set the stage for the entertaining run to the finish that followed.

The clash between Buescher and Reddick led to a heated exchange on pit road after the race, with Reddick ultimately taking full responsibility for the late incident.

“We got wrecked,” Buescher said. “That one’s clear as day. Don’t need any cameras to tell us. I don’t know what to say. We’ve raced really clean through the years, tried to be really respectful about it, and we get used up. (Reddick’s move) is just something that you know is not going to work. I’m just really pissed off about it right now. We certainly had a chance to win another one.”

“I completely understand where he is coming from,” added Reddick, who led four times for a race-high 174 laps. “He was running the top, running his own race, running his own line to keep me at bay. I made a really aggressive move and was hoping I was going to clear him. When I realized that I wasn’t going to, I tried to check up to not slide up into him, but, yeah, I wish I wouldn’t have done that. I completely understand why he is that mad. He did nothing wrong. I was just trying to win the race … and I took him out of the race as well. I hate that.”

Behind Keselowski, Gibbs rose to second in the final rundown, earning his best career Cup Series finish in his 64th start. Josh Berry was a season-best third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Chase Briscoe.

William Byron, Bubba Wallace, Alex Bowman, Justin Haley, and Michael McDowell closed the top 10.

Larson’s spin in turn three coming to 39 to go caused enough damage to put him out of the race. The 2021 Cup Series champion was credited with a 34th-place finish.

Sunday’s race took three hours, 12 minutes, and 30 seconds to complete, for an average speed of 124.757 mph. Six cautions slowed the pace for a combined 38 laps.

But it was the race winner who offered, perhaps, the most accurate summation of the events that took place.

“It was a heck of a dogfight,” said Keselowski. “[That] race was a nail biter in a lot of ways. Pretty epic.”

The NASCAR Cup Series season continues Sunday night, May 19 with the running of the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway. Larson is the event’s defending winner.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.