Brad Keselowski relied on mental toughness

I have two words to describe Brad Keselowski’s win Sunday at Pocono Raceway: mental toughness.

Keselowski was involved in an incident last Wednesday while testing at Road Atlanta. His brakes failed and he hit an outside retaining wall, not equipped with SAFER barrier, at approximately 100 mph. He suffered a strained back and fracture to his left ankle but was cleared to drive on Sunday.

After looking at the photos he tweeted from the hospital, his ankle the size of a softball, I knew it was going to be a painful race for him. Drivers put an incredible amount of pressure on the brake pedal after racing down the straightaway – especially a long straightaway like Pocono. But he put his game face on and fought till the end.

He raced all 200 laps incredibly focused and determined, despite the pain and difficulty maneuvering his pedals due to the large brace on his foot. While the race was under an hour-plus red flag for rain, Keselowski actually had fluid drawn from his ankle.

Keselowski’s flawless driving during those last 16 laps Sunday is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in a long time. It really demonstrates how critical the mental aspect of racing is. It goes to show you it’s not just about physical ability, car handling and pit stops. As Yogi Berra once said, “Ninety percent of this game is half-mental.”

People may question drivers’ athletic ability, but there’s no way they can question their toughness. Last year I watched Denny Hamlin limp around in Victory Lane after winning Texas Motor Speedway’s Samsung Mobile 500 just three weeks after undergoing surgery for a torn ACL in his left knee. Richard Petty once raced with a broken neck and Ricky Rudd even drove with his eyelids taped open. We see drivers racing with injuries all the time.

It reminds me of the theory that blind people hear better or how one can experience a “runner’s high” and keep going despite pain because of the release of endorphins. I think it’s the same concept. When drivers are hurt physically, they make up for it mentally.

Keselowski’s win yesterday marked his second for the season, which put him in the lead for the wild-card eligibility in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. He’s the only driver with two wins situated 11th-20th in point standings. With only five races remaining before the Chase field is set, he’s got a good chance at earning one of the two wild-card spots.

That fractured ankle just might have given him the edge he needs to be a contender for the Sprint Cup championship.