DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A pair of Team Penske teammates entered turn three on the final lap of the 63rd Daytona 500, both with visions of the Harley J. Earl Trophy flashing through their minds.
Joey Logano led the field into turn three at Daytona Int’l Speedway, seeking his second Daytona 500 triumph, while Brad Keselowski sat second in pursuit of a breakthrough win in the iconic event.
Ultimately, contact between the duo in the 31-degree high banks meant that neither one took the checkered flag in the NASCAR Cup Series season opener.
A push from eventual Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell sent Keselowski’s Ford Mustang into the back of Logano’s car as Logano moved low to block. The contact caused both Logano and Keselowski to spin in front of the pack, igniting a multi-car accident less than a mile from the finish line.
Logano’s car spun down to the wet infield grass, while Keselowski’s car slammed the outside wall, climbing the SAFER Barrier before taking a vicious impact in the rear from Kyle Busch’s Toyota Camry.
That dislodged the fuel cell from the back of Keselowski’s white No. 2, with sparks from the grinding crash eventually igniting the loose fuel and creating a massive fireball around the accident scene.
Fortunately, all drivers involved were able to walk away unscathed.
In all, at least a half-dozen cars were collected in the final-lap melee, but it stung the most for the two drivers who began the final lap in the best position to capture the victory in The Great American Race.
Keselowski threw his helmet as he exited his destroyed race car, the frustration of missing out on a Daytona 500 victory for the 11th time clear in his features.
After exiting the infield care center, the 2012 Cup Series champion was succinct in his description of the events that unfolded over the final half-lap of NASCAR’s most-prestigious event.
“I had a big run down the backstretch and wanted to make the pass to win the Daytona 500 … and it ended up really bad,” said Keselowski. “I don’t feel like I made a mistake, but I can’t drive everybody else’s car, so it’s frustrating. Our Discount Tire Ford was not the fastest, but (crew chief) Jeremy Bullins and the whole team did a great job of keeping us in position and right then we were in position.
“It’s exactly where I wanted to be, running second on the last lap at Daytona with this package,” Keselowski added. “I had the run, made the move and it didn’t work out.”
The emotions were mixed for Logano after he had time to process the finish.
Mixed with the disappointment of missing out on another Daytona 500 victory was pride for a fellow Ford driver and longtime friend in McDowell, who celebrated nearby in Daytona’s victory lane.
“Pandemonium (happened), I guess,” Logano said. “Chaos struck. The 2 (Keselowski) kept trying to back up, trying to get a run. I was trying to back up to him to keep the runs from being too big and just … I guess he got to the back of the 34 (McDowell), and it ended up being a really big run coming at me and it seemed like we all just collided in one spot. It’s a real bummer that none of the Penske cars won, but at least a Ford won and I’m really happy for McDowell.
“I hate that we didn’t win with our Shell/Pennzoil Mustang. I feel like we had a great shot being where we were and leading on the last lap, but if we couldn’t win I really am happy to see Michael win this thing,” Logano added. “He’s a great guy, a great person, a good leader in life and has helped me a lot in my life, so it’s very cool to see him win the Daytona 500.”
Kevin Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500 winner who pushed Logano until being shuffled out inside of two laps to go by the tandem of Keselowski and McDowell, had a front-row seat during the wild final lap.
He ended up fourth in the final rundown and also believed he could have won the Daytona 500.
“Brad laid way back there and got a run on the inside, and then at that point when everyone scattered, you just hope that you get a push or can wind up in the right spot (to capitalize),” Harvick explained. “I just wound up in a spot that put us finishing fourth. We were able to position ourselves up front. It was just kind of a weird race, the way it would all single-file out (at times).
“At the end … we just scattered there for a lap or two and saw how it all played out.”
Unfortunately for Logano and Keselowski, the end result was a pair of demolished race cars and a year-long wait before another shot to try and win the Daytona 500 comes back around.