Adversity Can’t Stop 2 Crew in Atlanta Win

Throughout Sunday afternoon’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Brad Keselowski drove to the front, only to have something send him right back into the fray, as it often happens at NASCAR’s highest level. But the No. 2 Autotrader Ford Fusion team kept pushing forward, and when the opportunity to win appeared, the 2 Crew took it.

Brad overcame a litany of issues during the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, and when Kevin Harvick’s dominant No. 4 Ford was flagged for speeding late in the race, Kes was there to capture his first ever victory at the 1.5-mile Hampton, Ga. track. Brad’s win in the second race of the 2017 season was a humbling one.

Brad’s win in the second race of the 2017 season was a humbling one.

“Wins are always special, but early in the season they’re really good. You just can’t take any wins for granted. I know I don’t. I always feel like before a race, you obviously always want to win, and you always wonder yourself when your last win is going to be, and I’m not anywhere near retirement age, but you still think about those things and you think about how tough it just is to win at this level and how lucky you are to have a team to win,” Brad said.

“A great winning percentage at this level is one out of every 10 races, and one out of every 10 races, if you can pull that off, you’re a Hall of Famer. I think that’s just a testament to how tough it is. So today was a tough day for us, and we knew it was going to be a tough day. We had some issues, as well. But that’s part of the sport, and that’s part of everything that’s so challenging about it to win and making it special when you do is to overcome those things like the Autotrader Ford Fusion team did today.”

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STAGE 1 – A STRONG START

The Deuce was one of the strongest cars all weekend, earning a fifth-place start at a track where Brad’s previous personal best finish was third place, set in his 2012 Cup Championship season.

Kes rode to third before the first pit stop of the day at lap 35. After one of several outstanding stops on the day by the 2 Crew, Brad cycled out to second behind the polesitter Harvick, who led 292 of 325 laps. BK finished Stage 1 right there behind that dominant No. 4, earning a large chunk of points for his early success.

STAGE 2 – 2 CREW ADAPTS

Brad was running in second in Stage 2 when he encountered his first road bump of the day, literally and figuratively. Kes reported with 54 laps left in Stage 2 that he had hit something and cut a tire. He made an unscheduled stop to swap rubber and cycled back out to 17th, the first car one lap down.

He used his fresh tires and eventually passed Harvick back to get on the lead lap. When the rest of the field pitted, Brad inherited the lead for 11 laps before Harvick passed him back, prompting BK to pit once again. It was a risky move just 27 laps before the end of the stage, but Kes trusted in his crew and the power of the No. 2 on fresh tires, and it paid off. After pitting, Brad drove from 17th and one lap down to seventh on the lead lap at the end of Stage 2.

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STAGE 3 – FRANTIC FINISH

The 2 Crew came through with a terrific stop to open Stage 3, vaulting Brad to fourth. Unfortunately, that put him on the weaker outside line, and he was bottled up and blocked out of the Top 5. He spent much of the early portion of Stage 3 fighting his way back up to second place when the race’s fourth caution flag flew at lap 263.

The No. 2 team’s quick stop, plus Harvick spinning his tires in the final pit stall made the Autotrader Ford the first car off pit road. Unfortunately, after Brad led two laps under yellow, crew chief Paul Wolfe’s voice broke the radio silence, saying, “Pit next time.” Kes followed orders and came in to have his right-rear lugnuts tightened. Before he restarted back in 14th with just 56 laps to go, he and his crew remained calm.

Kes followed orders and came in to have his right-rear lugnuts tightened. Before he restarted back in 14th with just 56 laps to go, he and his crew remained calm.

“We win together,” Brad said over the radio.

He quickly passed Matt Kenseth, Trevor Bayne and Clint Bowyer for 11th before Bowyer brought out the fifth caution at lap 47. After a four-tire stop, Brad was up two more spots, off in eighth.

Within two laps of the ensuing restart, BK  had torn his way to fifth place. From there, he bested Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson to move into third position with 28 laps to go. A dozen laps later, the sixth, final and most significant caution flag of the race flew with Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet bowed out due to a mechanical issue.

With 16 laps to go, Brad pitted from third and came out to fourth as Kenseth elected to take no tires to gain some late track position. Kes was set to restart fourth in the tough outer line when NASCAR announced that Harvick was too fast entering pit road. Suddenly restarting third with 11 laps to go and with the strongest car left in contention, Brad had his opportunity.

Brad’s powerful Ford pushed Larson to the lead on the final restart, giving BK second place. The talented young Larson put up a tremendous fight, but his No. 42 Chevrolet was no match for the Orange and Blue Deuce, and Brad made the winning pass on the inside line with seven laps to go.

From there, it was roughly 10 nervous miles around the slick AMS surface before Brad took the checkered flag, the American flag and proudly did his first Atlanta burnout, fittingly in the Folds of Honor sponsored race.

“First win of the season, locks you into the playoffs. That’s great for our team,” Brad said. “That feels so good. What great momentum. Got to fly the American flag at the Folds of Honor race, that just seems right. I love winning. It feels good to get one early in the season like this. Great race with Kyle Larson and everybody. I’ve got to thank my whole team here. They’ve been digging. We thought we were one of the cars to beat at Daytona but got wrecked out and didn’t really get to show our potential. But everyone kept their heads up and moved on to this week. This is what you get with that kind of effort, so I’m really proud of my guys.”

BRAD BRINGS AUTOTRADER TO VICTORY LANE

With the win, Brad has now brought six different primary sponsors to Victory Lane.

Of his 22 career wins, 16 have come in Miller Lite colors and two have come with Redd’s on his hood (one Apple Ale, one Wicked Apple Ale). The rest have been single-time winners: Miccosukee Resorts & Gaming (BK’s first win), Wurth, Detroit Genuine Parts and now Autotrader.

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The win came in Atlanta, home of Autotrader’s headquarters, making it a meaningful win for both Brad and those who help the 2 Crew and Team Penske build a championship-caliber team.

“Winning a Monster Cup race, these aren’t easy. There are all kinds of adversity that comes at you no matter who you are,” BK said. “Kevin (Harvick) was very strong and probably the guy to beat but we persevered. We had our own issues with the tire, the loose wheel. We just fought through it all day and got the Autotrader Ford Fusion to Victory Lane. That’s a big deal. The Autotrader headquarters are here in Atlanta. We got all of them here, so that’s great.”

WINNER’S CIRCLE

CHAMPIONSHIP OUTLOOK

With the win, Brad is already locked into the playoffs in just the second week of the season. Kes certainly has a history of winning early in the season. His first ever victory came in the ninth race of the 2009 season, and he’s only upped the ante from there. In 2012, he won the fourth race of the year at Bristol, followed by the third race of the year in Las Vegas in 2014. He won the fifth race in 2015 at Fontana and the third last year, again in Vegas.

Brad earned a whopping 53 points, as well as five playoff points, for the victory, tying him with Kurt Busch for the most in the MENCS.

The win vaulted BK from 12th to 3rd in the point standings. With 84 points, he trails just Busch (86) and Harvick (90), who boasts a series-high three stage wins.

NEXT UP

The Monster Cup circuit now heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the Kobalt 400, where Brad will hop into the Deuce as the reigning race winner.

LVMS is one of just five tracks where BK has multiple wins for his career. Brad has finished in the Top 10 four straight starts in Vegas: third place in 2013, a win in 2014, seventh in 2015 and a second victory last season.

Brad’s run at a third Vegas victory will go green shortly after 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

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