NASCAR Barometer: Keselowski Survives to Win at Bristol

NASCAR Barometer: Keselowski Survives to Win at Bristol

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Brad Keselowski was in position to pick up the pieces as faster cars crashed ahead of him in the closing miles of Sunday's Supermarket Heroes 500 and snagged his second win of the season and third at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Penske Racing driver had speed throughout the afternoon but didn't look likely to challenge for the win as Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Joey Logano all seemed to have the edge. Each of those three had his own trouble in the final miles that simply cycled Keselowski forward with each incident and ultimately left him in the lead with fresher tires than the rest of the field behind him. It then became a short run to the finish for him to grab the victory after starting the afternoon from pole position through a random draw.

After consecutive weeks of back-to-back races, the teams and drivers have an opportunity to take a slight breath with no midweek race. They return to action Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Keselowski won the last trip to the speedway in 2019, and Ford drivers have won the last three races at the track. A Toyota-powered car has not won there since Kyle Busch in 2013.

UPGRADE

Brad Keselowski - Brad Keselowski lucked into his second race win of the season Sunday in Bristol when he restarted inside the top five on newer tires with less than 10 laps remaining. Teammate Logano and Elliott battled for the lead ahead of him as the laps

Brad Keselowski was in position to pick up the pieces as faster cars crashed ahead of him in the closing miles of Sunday's Supermarket Heroes 500 and snagged his second win of the season and third at Bristol Motor Speedway. The Penske Racing driver had speed throughout the afternoon but didn't look likely to challenge for the win as Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Joey Logano all seemed to have the edge. Each of those three had his own trouble in the final miles that simply cycled Keselowski forward with each incident and ultimately left him in the lead with fresher tires than the rest of the field behind him. It then became a short run to the finish for him to grab the victory after starting the afternoon from pole position through a random draw.

After consecutive weeks of back-to-back races, the teams and drivers have an opportunity to take a slight breath with no midweek race. They return to action Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Keselowski won the last trip to the speedway in 2019, and Ford drivers have won the last three races at the track. A Toyota-powered car has not won there since Kyle Busch in 2013.

UPGRADE

Brad Keselowski - Brad Keselowski lucked into his second race win of the season Sunday in Bristol when he restarted inside the top five on newer tires with less than 10 laps remaining. Teammate Logano and Elliott battled for the lead ahead of him as the laps counted down only for the two to make contact, gifting Keselowski the lead and the win. For Keselowski it meant back-to-back Sunday race wins for the Penske Racing driver who continues to pick up the pieces as others collapse around him. He should be a contender again this weekend in Atlanta where he has two victories from the last three races at the track.

Chase Elliott – Elliott picked up Sunday in Bristol where he left off in Charlotte on Thursday. The Hendrick Motorsports driver won the opening stage after starting sixth and then carried on to smoothly walk away with the second stage as well. He looked likely to take the victory on the final restart when he had a huge launch over Joey Logano, but the Penske driver caught him and the pair ended up crashing as they relentlessly battled for the lead in the final laps. The nail in the coffin was Elliott's lunge to the inside of Logano that took both up the banking and into the outside wall. For fantasy owners, the takeaway should be that Elliott remains a potential winner each week. For this week, he has three top-10 finishes from four career visits to Atlanta in the Cup series.

Jimmie JohnsonJimmie Johnson again showed the speed that attracts fantasy attention. He had a fast car all afternoon at Bristol and worked his way into a battle among the top three in the final stage of the race. He slipped back outside of the top five with 20 laps remaining, but moved forward again as the chaos ahead of him took out some of the top contenders. With his performance on Sunday, Johnson showed once again that if things come together for him he could be a race winner before retiring from full-time competition at the end of the season. Johnson has won five races at Atlanta, and with the pace he had in Charlotte, he should be a top consideration for fantasy owners this week.

Kyle Busch – It is hard to race at Bristol and not talk about Busch. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has not had the speed advantage he and his team held over the rest of the field last season, but he found his way to the front in Bristol. He was part of the top group of drivers in position to win Sunday's race in one of his most competitive appearances so far this season. In fact, he and teammate Denny Hamlin battled at the front of the field through much of the final stage. When Hamlin crashed ahead of him, he had a final restart to get back out front but just couldn't get the jump and finished fourth. Busch has two Atlanta victories and has three top-10s in the last four races there and may have turned a corner in finding the speed he has asked for.

DOWNGRADE

Kevin Harvick – Harvick had been putting together another top-10 run Sunday in Bristol when he climbed the banking and made hard contact with the outside wall with less than 70 laps remaining. The team spent a significant amount of time on pit road fixing as much damage as they could, but Harvick's chances of a top finish were all but gone. With that, he watched his streak of finishing in the top 10 in every 2020 race slip away. His pace through the season suggests he should be back among the leaders again this week in Atlanta, but fantasy owners may want to see exactly how he and the team respond to Sunday's problems. Harvick has two Atlanta wins including his first series start at the track.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney was racing teammate Brad Keselowski for the lead when he drifted high up the track and spun. He saved the car from hitting the wall but was collected by Ty Dillon after he was unable to avoid Blaney's stopped machine. The incident left both drivers out of the race before the halfway distance. Blaney's last-place finish came right on the heels of back-to-back third-place finishes, and just as soon as he seemed to have overcome the bad luck of his early season. Blaney needs to overcome Sunday's disappointment and continue building confidence and momentum. That could be hard this week in Atlanta where he has not finished better than 12th in his four career starts.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Part of racing at Bristol is successfully running in groups of cars. Stenhouse was doing that late in the second stage on Sunday when an unexpected need to slow briefly left him with Johnson in his rear fender. The hit sent Stenhouse spinning into the inside wall and then back up the race track where he ultimately collected a number of other cars. The wreck was big enough to bring out the red flag as crews cleared the race track. Bristol was a track at which Stenhouse should have been able to score a good finish for fantasy owners, but that didn't materialize with his accident. Now that the series heads to Atlanta, where Stenhouse doesn't have a record that would attract fantasy attention. He has one top-10 finish from seven career starts at the track with an average finish of 18.4.

Tyler Reddick – As can often happen at Bristol Motor Speedway, Reddick became an innocent bystander in someone else's trouble that ruined his car and knocked him completely out of the race. Reddick was one of the handful of cars caught up in Stenhouse's spin back up the track, which ended both drivers' afternoons. The DNF is especially painful for Reddick, however. The rookie driver was putting together a string of really nice results that had him in contention to move into the playoff positions. He had two top-10s and two top-15s in the four races since NASCAR returned to racing, but Sunday's result will push him further down the order and give him more ground to reclaim as he works to find his way into the season-ending playoffs.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex dealt with an up-and-down day on Sunday that ultimately left him with a heavily damaged car after racing in the top five in the final miles. Truex never showed the speed that would have been likely to win the race, but he was fast enough to remain in contact with the top runners through much of the afternoon. However, on a late restart he was racing Aric Almirola for position as Almirola was pushed from behind and into Truex. The outcome left both drivers with damaged cars, taking both out of contention for what could have been a shot at the win. Truex is on a dry spell and may still be coming to terms with his new crew chief. He remains a risky play for his usual cost each week until that breakthrough is made.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Ryan Newman – Newman dealt with his fair share of challenges Sunday but overcame them in a gritty finish. The Roush Fenway Racing driver has had a good career at Bristol, and his speed showed in Sunday's race when he wasn't dealing with an issue or a spin. Unfortunately, multiple setbacks throughout the 500 laps left him fighting in the pack on a day that could have been much better. Just having Newman back in a racecar is a good thing considering his massive crash at Daytona earlier in the year. He heads to Atlanta next. His speed at that track should not be in question either. From 2003 to 2005, he started on pole an incredible six straight times. He finished 13th in last year's race at the track and is looking to regain the machine-like finishing form he had in 2019.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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