Brad Keselowski could be forgiven if he felt somewhat discombobulated Saturday night.
It was the kind of race day he’s not likely to see again.
It began with an unusual sort of turmoil within his Penske Racing operation. The team was informed Saturday afternoon that AJ Allmendinger, Keselowski’s Sprint Cup teammate, had failed a NASCAR drug test, resulting in his temporary suspension from competition. Team officials scrambled to transport Sam Hornish Jr. from North Carolina to Daytona Beach to replace Allmendinger for Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400.
Keselowski, normally NASCAR’s most active driver on Twitter, quickly informed his followers that he would not be commenting on the situation.
Then the race began. Keselowski’s weird day wasn’t anywhere close to being over.
In no particular order, Keselowski was hit on pit road while minding his own business, raced the rest of the night with a wounded quarter panel, spun off turn two to cause the race’s fourth caution and swam through the night’s big wrecks near the end of the race to finish eighth.
Considering everything the day held, it was almost like a win.
“Incredible,” was how Keselowski summed up the evening. “Sometimes you come to these places and you have no luck, and sometimes you come to these places and have luck and don’t run good. We just haven’t had a race here where we’ve run good and had luck.
“We’re proud to bring this Miller Lite Dodge home to an eighth-place finish. It was crazy.”
Keselowski’s Dodge was being serviced in his pit during the race’s first caution when Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne collided while exiting their pits. Newman’s car spun, and its rear slid into Keselowski’s car. Alert crew members and a NASCAR official jumped out of the way at the last moment.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever wrecked standing still,” Keselowski said. “That’s going to happen sometimes. We got through it. It was just one of those strange nights where you’re sitting behind the wheel and you can’t believe some of the things that are happening around you.
“I’m proud of my guys. It’s hot. It’s a long weekend. We battled through some adversity tonight and brought home a hard-fought finish.”
The pit-road contact created extra work for Keselowski’s crew.
“We had trouble there early with the contact in the pits but continued to fight back,” said crew chief Paul Wolfe. “We had to cut the quarter panel off because it was flapping, and that made the car really hard to drive. We lost all the sideforce, and Brad just spun it out on his own.”
Keselowski spun out in turn two on lap 146 (of 160). It was a moment of strange fortune, however, because the spin put Keselowski at the back of the pack, allowing him to miss a huge front-pack wreck a few laps later.
“We were just logging laps with a wounded right-rear quarter panel trying to stay with the leaders,” he said. “The aero on the car was really messed up. I spun. I came in for tires, and then a few laps later the big wreck happens and we’re so far back I was able to check up and miss it. Just crazy.”
Keselowski gained one spot in points to ninth.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.