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NNS: Keselowski Guts Out Talladega Victory

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This week, SPEED.com counts down the five best NASCAR Nationwide Series races of the 2010 season. No. 5 is Brad Keselowski’s dramatic victory at Talladega Superspeedway in April.

Toughness is a key attribute of becoming a NASCAR champion, and no one knows that better than Brad Keselowski, the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion. And nowhere was that more obvious than at Talladega Superspeedway in April, when Keselowski won the Aaron’s 312, a race he almost failed to run at all.

The weather for the spring Talladega weekend was dreadful, with heavy rains forcing the postponement of the Aaron’s 312 on April 24. That led NASCAR officials to rearrange the schedule for a rare Sunday doubleheader: The Aaron’s 499 NASCAR Sprint Cup race would be run at its normal time on April 25, with the Nationwide Series race to follow shortly thereafter.

In turn, that meant the double-duty drivers in the field would have a grueling day of more than 800 miles of racing at a track where they’re almost always on edge every single lap.

Keselowski’s Talladega adventure got off to a bad start, when he was part of a nine-car accident in Turn 4 in the Sprint Cup race, finishing 34th. It was doubly disappointing because Keselowski was the defending race winner.

Worse yet, when the crush panels on his Penske Racing Dodge were damaged in the crash, Keselowski suffered carbon monoxide intake and wasn’t cleared by doctors to compete until just before the start of the NASCAR Nationwide event. He had to take massive quantities of oxygen to get his carbon monoxide level down below allowable thresholds and then had to run down pit road to make it to his car for the command to start engines. Had the the race begun five minutes earlier, Keselowski would not have been in it.

Starting from 23rd place in his Discount Tires-sponsored Dodge, Keselowski took the lead for the first time on Lap 39. But he spent most of the afternoon chasing the fastest car in the race, the No. 33 Chevrolet of Kevin Harvick, who earlier in the day had won the Aaron’s 499 and was trying to become the first driver to win both a Sprint Cup and a Nationwide Series race on the same day on the same track.

The race was scheduled to go 117 laps, but a late-race crash on the frontstretch set up a green-white-checkered finish. Harvick took the white flag ahead of the field on Lap 120 and appeared as if he might be able to complete the double.

As they headed down the backstretch, Joey Logano locked onto Keselowski’s rear bumper and pushed him into the lead in Turn 3. Just behind Harvick, Jamie McMurray tried to drop down from the middle lane and cut between Harvick and Clint Bowyer.

Bad move.

Bowyer turned McMurray sideways in Turn 4, and with the field charging behind them, The Big One ensued. Dennis Setzer’s K-Automotive Dodge — a car owned by the Keselowski family — flew into the catchfence and exploded in a spectacular ball of flames, as 10 cars crashed. Fortunately, Setzer was uninjured.

Keselowski took the victory under caution with Logano second and Harvick third. Then came Jason Keller and Johnny Bornemann III. Bowyer, Tony Raines, Paul Menard, Brian Vickers and rookie Brian Scott completed the top 10.

“I didn't think I was going to get to run this race,” said Keselowski, who with his first victory of the season took over the NNS points lead from Kyle Busch and would not surrender it for the remainder of the season. “To go from that moment where I thought, ‘I just lost the championship. I'm not going to get to run,’ to getting in the car and winning the race — an exciting race — it's just amazing.”

Amazing indeed.

“It's an awesome feeling to be here in Talladega,” Keselowski said. “The track means a lot to me, and the fans that come here — that die-hard NASCAR fan — and to be able to win in front of them is pretty cool.”

Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.