CONCORD, N.C. – The caution that sent the Coca-Cola 600 to overtime both continued Chase Elliott's bad week and gave Brad Keselowski a much-needed break.
Keselowski is in a contract year during a season disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Business was closed for 10 weeks, meaning zero movement between Keselowski and Team Penske.
The first driver to give Roger Penske a NASCAR championship — first in the Xfinity Series and then, finally, in 2012, a Cup title — has been idling all year year. Then a caution with two laps remaining at Charlotte Motor Speedway cluttered Elliott's clear path to the win and gave Keselowski an opening.
Elliott pitted and Keselowski's new crew chief Jeremy Bullins called for his driver to stay on track, cycle into the lead and try to out-muscle seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson in a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish.
“We just committed to taking the front row and take a shot at the restart,” Bullins said. “Not many people I’d rather have in that situation than Brad.”
Keselowski got a terrific launch, cleared Johnson and pulled away for the Memorial Day victory. Indianapolis 500 victories by Will Power and Simon Pagenaud in 2018 and 2019, paired with Keselowski's steal in the 600, gave Penske three consecutive Memorial Day weekend wins.
Now Keselowski returns to Charlotte Motor Speedway for a Wednesday night race and a shot at consecutive victories. Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and then Keselowski have won the three Cup races since the season resumed.
Bullins is bringing a new Ford built by Team Penske. This is a big stretch for the No. 2 team to prove it should remain intact beyond this season. The financial losses during the pandemic will likely cause yet another driver salary reset and Keselowski, the only Cup champion available, is probably at the highest end of free agent salaries.