It was a snapshot of what Brad Keselowski can be and what Kurt Busch still cannot.
His ankle broken in a crash during a testing session Wedneday at Road Atlanta and lucky, he said, to "be alive" after hurtling into a barrier at 155 mph, Keselowski hauled himself from the No. 2 Dodge in Victory Lane at Pocono Raceway on Sunday, up onto the door for a thrust of fists into the air, then lowered himself down to say and do absolutely every right thing.
Keselowski's second victory of the season had propelled him three spots to 18th in the Sprint Cup points standings and put him in at least temporarily possession of one of two wild-card berths with five races remaining until the Chase for the Championship. Winning days after suffering the injury, driving a day after ceding his Nationwide car to Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. at Newton, Iowa, Keselowski could have been easily led into self-aggrandizement. But he thanked his crew chief, he thanked the guys, he mentioned the 31 American Special Operations troops killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan this week. They all do that, certainly, but in this crucible moment of career-defining, the quotable 27-year-old perhaps transcended into the type of character that the sport and its fans want and in these difficult times, perhaps, need.
The same, despite noble efforts too often self-defeated, cannot be said for Busch, who strode into Victory Lane, certainly, with the best of intentions, to congratulate his teammate. Busch, who since his tenure with Roush Fenway -- with whom he won the 2004 series title -- has seemingly ached to be regarded as a team player and a leader, came off stiff, scripted. Unfair perhaps, but that's Busch's lot. It was his ill fortune, again, to have to followed a genuinely impressive display by Keselowski, especially after Busch had spent the previous minutes in a televised spat with Jimmie Johnson about their late-race tussling in which both blamed the other for improper racing etiquette. Both former champions declared their long-standing hostilities freshly stoked, but Johnson won the post-race television interview and later reportedly dubbed Busch a "crybaby," although Busch later asserted "this is a day that needs to be documented as Keselowski's win and not the feud between Busch and Jimmie."
There he is trying again.
Stewart surrendered the 16th spot on Lap 93 when a flat left-front tire forced him to pit under green, but he rallied, finishing 11th to retain ninth in the driver standings. "We had the bad luck of the tire there and came from the back. All the spots we got, we earned them today," he said.
"Trying to make this Chase, we need as many points as we can," he said. "I've said all along we need to be in that top 12 or 13, or get a second win, so there's still a lot of racing left. There is going to be some bad luck for some of these other guys we're racing for it. You don't want to give up anything and we're going to give up some points today, so that means we've got to go and be extra aggressive these next few races."
And he almost did it. Dew point, be damned. Logano led when the race was halted on Lap 125 of 200 because of rain, and a victory would have temporarily given him a wild-card berth. But he surrendered the lead when racing resumed and a tire issue relegated him to a 26th-place finish.
"It's a really big deal," he said of his performance amid the speculation. "Obviously, there's been a lot of rumors around our team lately, but at the same time I don't know if everyone has realized how good we've been doing lately. The last six or seven races we've done a good job. Indy I felt like we were going to have a good finish there and strategy just didn't go our way. There's not much you can do about that.
"We've been doing a good job lately and we've been building a lot of momentum and as we keep doing that, eventually a win is going to happen. I think the confidence in the whole team is definitely up right now, especially in me. That's what brings wins on I think is knowing you can do it. I think it helps out a lot."