|SOURCE: FOX Sports|
Keselowski earned his spot in the season-opening exhibition event due to his 5 pole positions in 2014, a season where he and teammate Joey Logano quickly adapted to NASCAR’s new group qualifying procedure.
After a lackluster 2013, Keselowski rebounded to become the top seed in the 2014 Chase, winning the opening round at Chicagoland and squeezing into the penultimate Eliminator Round before he was eliminated at Phoenix. Keselowski enjoyed the most victories of any of his previous seasons with 6 wins in total, good enough for 5th in points, but a pair of on-track altercations at Charlotte and Texas became far bigger stories.
At Daytona, the outspoken Keselowski looked to make a statement in an event where he’d finished no worse than 4th in two previous starts. His white Ford was the last car on the track during Friday’s opening session, and his single-car runs left him the slowest of 25 entrants - the event’s biggest field since 2012. Only 14 competitors ran in the evening’s Happy Hour, of which Keselowski put up the 9th-best time. The rankings were academic, however, as he’d drawn the 4th starting spot for Saturday’s race.
The early laps of Saturday’s Unlimited were frantic, but clean, with several changes for last place. As the first 25-lap segment segment unfolded, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. held the spot most often, though he briefly traded it with Clint Bowyer. On Lap 8, Kyle Busch drifted to the back of the field along with Austin Dillon before Dillon took it on Lap 13. On Lap 22, Busch and Dillon had just started to lose touch with the field when trouble broke out in the tri-oval.
Heading into the corner, Kyle Larson, making his Unlimited debut, attempted to slide into the 12th spot ahead of Keselowski in he outside line, but wasn’t clear. Larson’s Chevrolet made contact with Keselowski’s left-front, causing Keselowski to check-up in front of a closing Clint Bowyer. The two made contact, and Keselowski slid into the grass, tearing the front valence off his car before he slid up the track into the outside wall. Fortunately, no other cars were involved - though the trailing Busch and Dillon had to drive through the grass to miss him - and Keselowski walked away unharmed. His night, however, was over.
The remainder of the Bottom Five filled in 23 laps later when the biggest crash of the night took place just a few hundred yards up the track. Bumped by Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray’s top-five car turned sideways in front of the pack, collecting 13 other cars, 6 of which failed to make it back around. McMurray joined Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, and polesitter Paul Menard in the final five spots.
*This was the first Sprint Unlimited last-place finish for Keselowski, team owner Roger Penske, and the #2 car. It is also the third in a row for Ford, following the back-to-back early exits by all-time event leader Terry Labonte, who retired from Cup competition last October.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
25) #2-Brad Keselowski / 22 laps / crash / led 2 laps
24) #1-Jamie McMurray / 45 laps / crash / led 1 lap
23) #5-Kasey Kahne / 45 laps / crash
22) #48-Jimmie Johnson / 45 laps / crash
21) #27-Paul Menard / 45 laps / crash / led 7 laps