Brad Keselowski missed the beginning of final practice on Saturday and had Austin Cindric on standby due to experiencing flu-like symptoms. But Keselowski channeled his inner Michael Jordan and scratched and clawed his way through the field, taking advantage of an oddly timed caution, to win the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “I wouldn’t have made this race yesterday,” Keselowski told the media center post-race, “I wasn’t in very good shape.” He also said that he lost 5-6 pounds within a 10 hour span, but IV’s from the infield care center helped him regain his strength. It was his 28th career victory and 60th overall with Team Penske. That win makes him the all-time winningest driver in Team Penske history, topping the late, great Mark Donahue’s team record held since 1975. It was also the first win for the Ford Mustang in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
In the closing laps, there was great concern that Keselowski’s car would hold up. Both of his Team Penske teammates, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney, pitted late to address a vibration. Logano had a loose wheel and Blaney had a tire going down. With less than 10 laps to go, Martin Truex Jr. started to close in on Keselowski. But the #2 Ford Mustang held on and took the checkered flag by just 0.218 seconds.
As if the finish wasn’t challenging enough, Keselowski almost blew an engine with about 50 laps to go, “An up and down day, but ended on the high side.” Keselowski told PRN, “Had some highs and lows, we had a broken jack and then the pit road sequence we got debris on the grill and overheated. The Roush Yates engine held together.” Keselowski started 19th and worked his way into the Top-10 before a broken jack placed him further back in the pack.
Once he entered the Top-5, the last set of green flag pit stops began. A scary incident occurred on pit road when Ryan Preece got in the back of B.J. McLeod and caused a spin on pit road. McLeod’s car pinched a crew member from Chris Buescher’s team against the pit wall. He was able to free himself and walk away, but he was transported to a local hospital for observation where he was later revealed to have broken his fibula, torn his ACL, and other injuries to his right leg. Preece said he was looking at his tachometer at the time of the incident, “Just trying to make sure I wasn’t speeding. When I looked up,  was coming in the pits. Just a mistake. What are you going to do.”
GEEZ. #FOHQT500 #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/yF2OUftYro
— nascarcasm (@nascarcasm) February 24, 2019
The timing of the caution meant only two cars were on the lead lap; Logano and Kurt Busch, and Keselowski was given the free pass as the first car one lap down. Controversy ensued when Truex as apparently handed a pit road penalty for a crew member over the wall too soon. However, when the race was restarted, Truex was not at the rear serving the penalty. The tweet from NASCAR Alerts describing the penalty was deleted, but there was no announcement that the penalty was rescinded. “It was a non-penalty.” Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell told a group of reporters, “It automatically goes to the penalty sheet regardless if we override it in the tower and that was one that we couldn’t confirm that his foot was down via the camera angles so we didn’t make that call.”
The call was brought to further attention when Truex was chasing down leader Keselowski in the final laps, raising the question of what the reaction would be if he were to win on a rescinded penalty that, at the time, wasn’t known to be rescinded.
Rookies Daniel Hemric and Preece both were running in the Top-10 before calamity struck. Preece had the earlier described incident on pit road and Hemric had to pit for a tire going down while running in 4th place during the final run to the finish. Preece was the only DNF in the race and finished 35th while Hemric was the rookie of the race finishing 20th, 1 lap down.
|2||9||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||325||Running|
|18||2||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford||324||Running|
|30||34||96||Parker Kligerman (i)||Toyota||318||Running|
|31||32||15||Ross Chastain (i)||Chevy||313||Running|
|32||37||52||BJ McLeod (i)||Chevy||313||Running|
|36||35||77||Garrett Smithley (i)||Chevy||254||Running|