Keselowski dejected after giving up lead at Pocono
June 09, 2014, Pat DeCola, NASCAR.com
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LONG POND, Pa. -- It was one of those split-second decisions that you can tell right away if you've made the right move or not.
For Brad Keselowski, it wasn't.
Leading Sunday's Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway with five laps to go, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion was forced by a piece of debris on his grille that was taxing his engine to make the heavy choice of charging forward, hoping to make it another dozen miles without his motor blowing up, or to risk track position by letting off the gas in an effort to remove it.
Keselowski decided to fall back and hope for the best, not quite realizing the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr. was as close as it was. Earnhardt passed the No. 2 Team Penske Ford and cruised into Victory Lane for his second win of 2014, saddling Keselowski with his second-straight bittersweet, runner-up finish.
"I don't think (the debris) came off (the grille). I'd have to see what it looked like before and after, but it was definitely a mistake," said Keselowski, who moves up to the top five in the standings for the first time since leaving Fontana. "It was one of those things, I thought I was going to get passed because I was really down on power down the straightaway, so I don't know. … I knew it was going to break and we were going to get passed. I was trying to make whatever move I could do to help clean it off and I'm not sure I did enough to make a difference, but I made enough of a difference to lose the lead in the process."
With the obvious speed the No. 2 car had, Keselowski did note that he was looking forward to when the series returns to the Tricky Triangle August 3 for the GoBowling.com 400, adding that he was really proud of the speed his team brought to the race track.
It was clear, however, that he knew he let his second win slip away, wearing his dejection solemnly on the sleeve of his red and white firesuit.
Considering it was Keselowski who picked up his first win of the season at Las Vegas in a reversal of fortunes contrary to Sunday's result -- when it was Earnhardt who gave it away when he ran dry on the final laps for a runner-up finish -- the Hendrick Motorsports driver can sympathize with his former JR Motorsports driver, but he wasn't about to help him out, either.
"You know, (Brad and I) are good friends and you hate to see a guy have to lose a race in a manner like that, but I'm excited that we won," said Earnhardt, whose two wins and 476 points put him one point ahead of teammate Jimmie Johnson in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings and atop the Chase Grid.
"I know that he would have definitely rather lost it to me than a few other guys out there that he's not best of buddies with, and we're competitive -- as we race year after year, we become more competitors than we are friends, and that's just the natural cycle of it.
"But I still felt bad for him, and definitely he had it won. We weren't going to get to him. He was in good shape, and that had to have been a very challenging decision to make. That temperature must have been really high because knowing Brad, if it was 270 or 270 (degrees) he keeps his foot in it and just races it on out. And now, hindsight is a little different, knowing the grille -- the debris didn't come off the grille and he made it to the end, that can be hard on him and he can beat himself up."
Keselowski will have another shot next weekend to avoid a third-straight runner-up finish at his home track Michigan International Speedway. The 30-year-old's first four starts at the track saw four sub-20 finishes, but he's improved, averaging a finish of 8.4 in his last five starts at the two-mile track.
That said, it'll be hard to think about next week until teams hit the track Friday. For now, this one stings.
"He's young enough, good enough, he's going to have plenty of opportunities to get his wins and enjoy more success in the sport," Earnhardt said. "He'll get over this one over time, but yeah, it's got to be pretty difficult, I'm sure."