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Keselowski helps deliver thriller

8/8/2011 - NASCAR

LONG POND, Pa. -- How could you possibly ask for more, NASCAR fans?

Brad Keselowski, a driver often derided as being too impatient and hot-headed to win many races, took the checkered flag in the Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, despite having a broken left ankle he suffered in a practice crash Wednesday swollen to the size of a grapefruit. A green and blue grapefruit.

He moved into the first Chase wild-card spot with his second victory of the season despite being 18th in the standings. He has to maintain a spot in the top 20 to be eligible, and he started the race in 21st.

A track often criticized for putting on some of the most boring races of the season -- not true in these quarters -- gave us one of the best of 2011. No fuel-mileage strategy here, just good, hard racing all day. Second-place finisher Kyle Busch tried desperately to get to Keselowski at the end after Busch was penalized earlier in the race. He just didn't have enough left.

Two drivers, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson, often called out as being too "vanilla," provided some of that good, hard racing down the stretch -- they finished third and fourth, respectively -- and then they let some hard feelings show on pit road as soon as the race was over.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. got the needed rebound race he was looking for with a ninth-place finish at a track where he's never been truly good. He heads to Watkins Glen next week in 10th place in the standings and clinging to a Chase spot, but with 23 points of breathing room ahead of Denny Hamlin in 11th.

Heck, there was even a one-hour, 40-minute rain delay that allowed you time to prepare dinner and have it ready as soon as the race was over.

And while this race is over, the storylines that spill out of it won't be for weeks, maybe not until the season is over in November.

One big storyline is the emerging confidence of the winner driving the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge.

"I was going to win the race," he said. "I came here to win. When you let the pain get into your head that far that you don't believe you can win, you'll never win.

"And I woke up this morning feeling like we could win the race. … If you don't feel that way, you're never going to win at anything you do."

The racing at Pocono was hard and fast, with restarts often producing four-wide sprints through Turn 1 and jockeying for position on pure horsepower on the longest frontstretch in NASCAR.

It was on the final restart that Kyle Busch -- the leader and thus with the choice of which line he would run on the double-file restart -- lost contact with Keselowski after choosing the inside line.

"If I had to do it over again, I'm not sure that I would change anything," Busch said. "I felt like the inside was my lane. I had been running down there and lower all day. I just got bogged down with [Johnson] trying to pass me … that's racing. That's what we're all out here doing is to get all we can get."

As for Johnson and Kurt Busch, let's just say they didn't see the late-race banging for third place the same way.

"It was a good battle, man, I worked hard to get by him," Johnson said. "I got outside of him off of [Turn] 2 and I don't know, he ran over the side of me off of 2, which I didn't really understand as I took a lot patience and gave him a lot of courtesy throughout the course of the day running him down.

"I could have run into him. I could have moved him a lot of different ways to get that position, but I didn't, you know? I went down there and passed him, and off of 2 he ran me into the wall, or tried to. And I held my ground so I wouldn't get smashed in the fence."

These two have history together, including a dustup at Sonoma in 2009. They have another road course to fight it out on next week at Watkins Glen, something that didn't seem lost on Busch when he was asked if he was upset about the way Johnson raced him.

"Here we go, 'People Magazine,'" Busch said. "I'm glad you asked. We were racing hard. I think that's what you saw on TV and that's what should be reported. There are a lot of times when the 22 [Busch] is on the short end of the stick of the 48, and I raced him hard today.

"I'm glad I did. I have no regrets."

For Keselowski, it was about gutting it up and letting crew chief Paul Wolfe put them into a position to succeed. And Keselowski has a cousin who serves with the Navy SEALs, and said the helicopter crash in Afghanistan that killed 30 members of the special forces -- including SEALs -- put his own pain in perspective for him.

"It's not me, it's good people," Keselowski said of his win on ESPN just after getting out of his car in Victory Lane. "It's having a Paul Wolfe and a team that digs. There are so many people to thank for Victory Lane … I'm no hero. The heroes are the guys that died in Afghanistan this weekend and I want to spend time thinking about them.

"They were my inspiration for this weekend and the things that those guys do. I'm glad that we could win today, but those are the heroes. I just drive race cars for a living."

How could you possibly ask for more?

K. Lee Davis is a motorsports editor for ESPN.com. He can be reached at kevin.davis@espn.com.