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For Brad Keselowski, winning at Bristol puts his name in there among the legends

   One of the wonders of the sports world, Bristol Motor Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   BRISTOL, Tenn.
   There's no place like Bristol.
   Anywhere on earth.
   And now Brad Keselowski, almost reverent in victory, reciting the names of the NASCAR legends who won here in a voice of awe, has his name on a trophy.

   More than that, Keselowski, once considered just a brash kid, marked himself as a serious contender for this season's Sprint Cup championship, which kicks off in just 22 days, in Chicago.
   It might not have translated that well onto television, but for the 156,000 here at Bristol Motor Speedway Saturday night's 500 was a success. Perhaps not as wild as the Wednesday Truck race or the Friday Nationwide race, but certainly tense and filled with tight action.
   And at the end it was one of the new kids on the NASCAR block smoking his tires in victory celebration on the ramp up to the rooftop victory lane.
   And Keselowski seemed almost dazed by what he had done:
   "I think about what an honor it is to have this opportunity.  There's so many talented race car drivers out there.  They're everywhere…and some of them get the opportunity but things happen outside of their control, or sometimes they just screw it up.  A lot of them don't.
    "I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity and to not have screwed it up.  There were several times where I felt like I had.
    "So I'm just very, very fortunate to be where I'm at right now. 
    "When you're running those last few laps, you're thinking to yourself 'I just can't believe this.'
    "I didn't even think I'd ever have the opportunity to run this race, let alone to be leading it with five to go.
     "I can remember talking to my brother right before he got the chance to start the Daytona 500 (in February).  I asked him 'What do you think? How are you going to do in the race?'
    "He said 'I don't care. I can't believe I'm in the Daytona 500, that I'm going to get to run it.  No matter what happens, this is the best day of my life.'
     "And I try to keep that in perspective -- how lucky I was just to even be running this race…and how fortunate I am to be a part of this sport, let alone to be leading at the end and to win it.  It's just a huge honor."


    Yes! (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  


Jeff Gordon dominated much of the race, easily with the best car on the track. But the final round of pit stops, under caution with 85 laps to go (for Kyle Busch's blown tire), foiled him. Keselowski beat him out of the pits, and that was the key to victory.
    Paul Wolfe, Keselowski's crew chief: "It's not always about just having a fast race car.  It's about the guys having good stops.  They had a fast stop there at the end when it counted, and that was able to get us towards the front row, and then we had a shot at it."
     Keselowski, from an old-school racing family, put it simply:
    "This sport, in its simplest form, is just about winning. 
     "Why make it any more complicated than that? 
      "If you've got cars to win, go out there and win.  If you don't, get the best finish you can.
      "I look at Jimmie Johnson, and the years of success he's had,  winning championships.  He wins races in the chase…and you've got to be able to do that.
      "But you just do the best you can on any given week…You try to be smart at it and smart about it and try not to over-think it.
     "You'll have great weeks like we're having here if you've got a great team.  We've got a great team.  I don't think we're over-thinking it
    "This sport works in cycles.  I've been at the bottom of the cycle since I've come in, and we're just now getting to the top.  And you've got to capitalize when you're at the top.  You've got to find a way to win, got to find a way to get good finishes. 
     "And I know we'll cycle back to the bottom; it's just a matter of time.  Every team does. 
      "Denny is the best example -- He's cycled both ways. You can just hope when you're at the top of the cycle you capitalize on it….and when you're at the bottom of the cycle, you find a way to persevere through it.
     "Tony Stewart is not going to run wherever he finished today forever. He's definitely going to cycle back up.  Does he cycle up tomorrow, or does he cycle up four weeks from now or more?  I don't know.  But you certainly can't count on him to not get back to his winning forms."


      The night at Bristol, one of this sport's legendary events (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  


After the race Gordon took issue with the pit road's embedded speeding lines, which some drivers clearly played to their advantage. NASCAR uses a timing system based on wires laid under the asphalt in segments to keep tabs on pit road speeds; a more accurate system would be GPS.
    Picking a good pit stall gives a driver an edge in playing the pit road speed game. And Gordon, though he had a good pit, complained that some other drivers wound up somehow with a seemingly unfair advantage.
   "The whole purpose of timing lines and pit road speed is to make it as equal and fair for everybody as you possibly can," Gordon said.  "And they've got some work to do at this pit road. 
    "The track is awesome, but the pit road is terrible.
    "When a guy can run 60 mph down pit road, and the pit road speed is 35, then something is wrong with the system. 
     "It's a joke that somebody can leave pit road and run that fast down pit road and then slam on the brakes (to foil the timing wires). (Matt) Kenseth drove by four cars, and so did Brad when he left his pit stall.  I just don't understand it.
   "I don't understand why we don't have a button on the steering wheel, just hold it, and it takes us pit road speed, and we just run it all the way down pit road.  You'll have to ask NASCAR why we don't have that technology. 
    "We have the technology to do it, but why we don't incorporate it into the cars…and there might be good reasons why we don't.
     "The timing lines are a big improvement over what we used to have (officials with handheld stopwatches). But look at Michigan last week -- they redid pit road, and they completely redid their pit road lines, and there was no stall that had a big advantage. That's what they're going to need to do here eventually."


         NASCAR's pit road speeding lines didn't suit Jeff Gordon (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


On the other hand Gordon praised the wide track, which now has three grooves, which drivers used aggressively throughout the three-hour race:
    "I love racing here with the multiple grooves.  I know there are not as many cautions (as on the old layout), and there are not as many guys upset at one another after the race is over -- which makes for a good television show, I guess.  But for us drivers, it was very challenging to try to make a pass.  You had to set a guy up, and work him over and over and over, and sometimes you made the pass, sometimes you didn't."
     The race on the new smooth concrete has changed considerably since then. And Gordon said if Goodyear could come up with a better tire here, the action might be better too.
    "Goodyear came here earlier in the year with a little bit softer tire, and they had to change it (before the race) because we wore through it," Gordon said. 
    "If they could get that tire to lay some rubber down, that would probably be a better tire to allow us to race. It would have a little bit more grip.
    "This tire, it seems like you sit up on top of the track and slide it around a little bit. And you can overheat it real easily. But it doesn't wear much. 
    "I think Goodyear could look at that."


Pit Road Speed

Great column Mike. Again.

If Knaus and Jimmie Johnson had pulled this trick we'd be calling them geniuses. Brad and his team are racing smarter than the rest of them right now. It could have easily gone the other way for Brad, look at what happened to his team mate, Kurt Busch when they tried the same thing; two costly penalties. Watching Brad come through the standings the last few weeks, even when injured has been great.

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