Brad Keselowski was lucky simply to be at Pocono Raceway this weekend. Just starting the Good Sam RV Insurance 500 Cup race was a huge triumph.
Keselowski had crashed at 100mph in testing at Road Atlanta just four days earlier and had to be flown to hospital for treatment for an avulsion fracture to his left ankle. It was a small miracle he was able to climb in the car, but to win the race as well? Only in a cheesy Hollywood film, surely.
The early stages of the race had been predominantly led by pole sitter Joey Logano, Keselowski's Penske team mate Kurt Busch, and Logano's Joe Gibbs Racing team mates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. It had run under the ongoing threat of rain in the area that had forced the overnight postponement of the Camping World Truck Series race, and drivers were acutely aware that any trace of drizzle on track could prove to herald the end of the race once half distance had been passed.
That put a premium on being in the lead, and it was Logano who held it when the rain suddenly arrived on lap 123 and forced the red flag to come out minutes later as the heavy downpour meant a resumption looked unlikely. If the race had been called, it would have been the second time in his Cup career that Logano would have won a race because of rain curtailment.
"We knew the rain was coming, and I was trying to hold off the #48," said Logano. "It was pretty exciting there, coming to the end, when my crew chief Zippy [Greg Zipadelli] told me [that] the rain was coming. I just kept on digging, and finally it just started downpouring."
But it was not to be the end of the race after all: one hour, 40 minutes later the cars were ushered back out on track. Organisers feared another, larger downpour was heading in the direction of the 2.5-mile unique "tri-oval" circuit but in fact the rain would now hold off until the end of the race, which would go full distance against all expectations.
Keselowski took the lead for the first time on lap 129 as everyone came in to pit lane for fuel and tyres before the restart, but it was Kurt Busch who quickly took point for most of the next 32 laps. Former leader Logano fell foul to the need for a late pit stop for tyres after a suspected puncture, and Denny Hamlin - who had led for 65 laps, more than anyone else - suffered from lugnut delays during his own earlier stop.
In the closing stages it was Kyle Busch who led, which was an impressive feat in its own right as he had spun out of sixth position on lap 12, then headed to pit road believing he'd beaten the ensuing caution that closed pit lane for business. Race control had disagreed and sent him to the back of the field for the transgression, leaving Busch to work his way back up from last place.
But in the closing phase of the race, Keselowski took the lead at the restart despite a strong challenge from Jimmie Johnson, while Kyle had his hands full with his brother Kurt. That allowed Keselowski to pull out a lead, and although Kyle would subsequently break away from a ferociously duelling Kurt and Jimmie Johnson to give chase and get within a second of the #2, it wasn't enough and Keselowski took the chequered flag. That meant Busch lost out and had to settle for his second second-place of the day, after finishing as runner-up to Kevin Harvick in the delayed Truck race in the morning.
How had Brad fared with his broken ankle? "It just hurt," Keselowski admitted. "It felt a lot better when I went through that chequered flag!"
"It's amazing what the body can do," his Penske team mate Kurt Busch said. "For him to go through that wreck this week and get back on his horse right away and find success, that's only going to make Brad Keselowski a better racer."
It's Keselowski's third Cup victory in 74 starts. More importantly it's his second win in 2011, which means that provided he finishes in the top 20, he will now almost certainly get into the Chase. Oh, and the Pocono victory boosted him up into 18th place, just where he needs to be for that to happen.
All in all, Keselowski must certainly believe that it was definitely worth the pain to get to Pocono this weekend.Full race results and positions