Darlington Raceway lived up to its rugged reputation as the track Too Tough To Tame Saturday night. The track played no favorites and in the end, pit strategy and a green-white-checkered finish determined the outcome of the 62nd edition of the Southern 500 with Regan Smith getting his first career victory.
Brad Keselowski drove his No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger R/T to his first top-five finish of the season and wheeled the Blue Deuce to a third-place finish on the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval. Patience, perseverance and some gun-slinger gambling was the recipe for success for Keselowski.
A self-proclaimed 15th-place race car all night, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe used late-race pit strategy and stayed on the track to gain nine positions as the leaders pitted during the races 10th caution on lap 359 of the scheduled 367-lap race. With seven laps remaining, the two-car duo of Smith and Keselowski paced the field to green each on older tires. On lap 365 a three-car mishap behind the two leaders brought out the 11th-caution of the race that set the stage for the green-white-checkered shootout.
A nice comeback for this Miller Lite Dodge tonight, said Keselowski. We played the strategy card tonight. That was our only shot. It all worked out. We had a shot late in the race and thats cool. The last restart, I was just trying to stay in my own lane and stay with Regan. What a crazy finish. Im happy with the result, but not happy with the way we got it. We want to earn them because we have fast racecars. Weve got some work to do to make our cars better.I knew that I could time a run on that last restart and give Regan a good push. Carl (Edwards) was really fast behind me. I ended up giving him (Regan) a huge push into Turn 1 and we hooked up and set sail. Im really happy for Regan. I wanted to make sure that if I couldnt win, he did. A win for the underdogs tonight, thats for sure.
The third-place finish represents Keselowskis highest finish since driving for Penske Racing.
After starting 10th, the Rochester Hills, Mich., native quickly found himself slipping backwards with handling issues, Clean air was pivotal in handling and those who had it were fast.
By lap 165, Keselowski was a lap down in 23rd position, struggling to find the right pace. Wolfe used a series of pit stops over the next 100 laps for adjustments and a pair of free passes to get back on the lead lap and up to 11th by lap 290.
It was a great night for as tough a season that it’s been, said Wolfe. We didn’t have the greatest car, but Brad hung in there and drove a great race. We kept working on the Miller Lite Dodge and pit strategy just worked out for us.”