Brad Keselowski scored his first victory at Daytona after 15 previous tries with a basic strategy.
Take the fastest car to the front and dare everybody else to catch him.
Nobody did as Keselowski won Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 moments after one of the challengers, Kurt Busch, spun out on the last lap at Daytona International Speedway. Kyle Busch finished second as Keselowski hung on after the fifth caution of the night with only three laps remaining. Trevor Bayne was third.
“This is huge,” Keselowski said. “I love this place!’’
What’s not to love? He led 115 of 161 laps Saturday night after regaining the lead from Kyle Busch with 15 laps to go. Keselowski, who drives for Penske Racing, scored his third victory of the season as he also moved into first place in the Sprint Cup standings.
Hard to tell.
This much was clear: A total of 22 cars — more than half the field — were involved in the carnage, including the entire Hendrick Motorsports team. That would include the proverbial fan favorite, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I was in the middle and something happened and he [McMurray] went to the right,” said Johnson, Junior’s teammate. “I don’t know what happened with the 1 [McMurray] to change lanes as fast as he did from the outside.”
As always, there was little anyone could do once the cars started bouncing around the tri-oval.
“You try to slow down and hope there’s some way to get out,” said Chase Elliott, another Hendrick driver.
It didn’t go well for other guys either, including Chase qualifier Matt Kenseth.
“Just a bunch of cars crashing — pretty much that was it,” Kenseth said. “I was just trying to make my way back toward the front a little bit there. We had a bad pit stop exchange and came out way, way behind everybody. Carl [Edwards] was up toward the front and we were running with him before the pit stop.
“I probably should have just hung in the back, hindsight, but who knows when they’re going to wreck? You never know if they’re going to wreck. Just trying to get back toward the front and there was a wreck somewhere a few rows up in front of me and just nowhere really to go.”
For a while, Tony Stewart was in the mix at the front of the pack, but his car got loose with 12 laps to go and his Bass Pro Shops Chevy hit the outside wall in a trail of smoke. He finished 26th but moved into the 11th spot in the Chase grid because of all the carnage involving contenders Saturday night.
Stewart’s run at his 20th victory at Daytona fell short after scoring an unexpected victory at Sonoma last week.
“We kind of have to play the race differently than we normally would, as much as we would like to win,” Stewart said before the race. “If we get in a position to win it, you bet your ass we’re going to try to do that. But we’re probably going to be in a defensive position for three-quarters of the race. We want to stay out of trouble. We don’t want to have a setback and all of a sudden you’re a bunch of points back and you have a problem.”