No driver has won more Cup points races since 2005 at Daytona and Talladega than Brad Keselowski. And no driver has failed to finish more Daytona 500s in the last four years because of accidents.
So when Keselowski is asked how excited he is about this year’s Daytona 500, his answer is tainted by his recent experience in the season-opening race.
“I’m as excited as I can be knowing that we’re going to go there and destroy a bunch of race cars,” Keselowski told NBC Sports.
Keselowski — who has won six Cup points races at Daytona and Talladega since 2005 — has failed to finish three of the last four Daytona 500s because of accidents.
“I’m just so hopeful I can make it through that whole race without getting destroyed,” Keselowski said. “That would be a major accomplishment given the last five years there. I feel like we have been really competitive and in a spot to win and it hasn’t obviously worked out for us.
“I just want to be in position and have the opportunity to make the move. That’s all I can really ask for. If I can do that, then I’ll be excited, but it has not been the case the last five years.”
THE BIG ONE pic.twitter.com/eZemBhMeNn
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) February 17, 2020
He was second in last year’s race when contact from behind turned him 17 laps from the scheduled distance.
His Speedweeks started with a crash in the Busch Clash. He was critical of teammate Joey Logano for a block on Kyle Busch that trigged the incident. Keselowski expressed his frustration with William Byron‘s blocking in the July 2018 Daytona race and hit Byron when blocked during practice before the July 2019 race at Daytona.
Keselowski was third in the 2018 Daytona 500 when contact with Chase Elliott triggered a seven-car crash shortly past halfway. A crash with about a quarter of the race left in the 2017 Daytona 500 collected Keselowski.
His misfortune comes amid a significant increase in cars in wrecks during the Daytona 500. In the last four Daytona 500s, 81.3% of the cars were involved in crashes, based on NASCAR’s race reports. The four years before that saw 42.6% of the cars in the Daytona 500 involved in accidents.
Last year’s result is particularly frustrating for Keselowski. He led when Christopher Bell pushed Ryan Newman by late in the race. Shortly after that, Keselowski was in a wreck and eliminated. He told Fox that he made “a mistake” by not blocking Newman and Bell on the inside.
A year later, the mistake remains with Keselowski.
“I think about it a lot,” he told NBC Sports. “I think about what I could have done differently, what I should have done differently. In retrospect, I don’t think there was anything I could have done differently.
“It was an incredibly impressive move because just getting into tactics, for whatever reason, the (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) cars at the 500 are able to push in ways no one else is able to and it’s winning them races. I don’t think there was any other car outside of the Gibbs cars that could have pulled that move off. It became unblockable. It cost me control of the race and a lap or two later, I paid the penalty for that.”
Adding to the frustration for Keselowski is that the Daytona 500 is only race among the sport’s crown jewels he has yet to win. He won the Brickyard 400 in 2018. A week later, he won the Southern 500. He won the Coca-Cola 600 last year.
That the Daytona 500 is the one race is shocking considering Keselowski’s prowess on speedway track where horsepower is restricted. His first career Cup win came in 2009 at Talladega in a duel with Carl Edwards. Keselowski won four more times at Talladega from 2012-17. His lone Daytona Cup points win came in 2016.
As he searches to win again at a superspeedway, Keselowski looks at Denny Hamlin’s three Daytona 500 wins in the last five years in awe. But it isn’t the winning that impresses Keselowski the most.
“I don’t know how in the world,” Keselowski said, “he was able to survive all the wrecks.”
MOST WINS IN CUP POINTS RACES AT DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA SINCE 2005
6 — Brad Keselowski
5 — Denny Hamlin
5 — Tony Stewart
5 — Jimmie Johnson
4 — Jeff Gordon
4 — Joey Logano
4 — Jamie McMurray