Brad Keselowski's march to his first NASCAR Nationwide Series championship continued in the shadow of the St. Louis Arch Oct. 23 when he took a second straight and sixth victory of the season in come-from-behind fashion at Gateway International Raceway.
The Penske Racing driver, who was denied a July Gateway victory this season when his car was spun by Carl Edwards' No. 60 in Turn 4 on the final lap, edged his No. 22 around three-way battle for the lead between Reed Sorenson's No. 32, Mike Bliss' No. 33 and Jason Leffler's No. 38 at the start/finish line on Lap 199 of 200 and soared off to a 0.227 of a second victory.
The savvy maneuver helped Keselowski inflate his championship lead to 485 points over second-place title challenger Carl Edwards, who charted his 17th top-five and 23rd top-10 finish of the season with a fifth-place showing. "When Bliss got the lead, I thought he'd be gone. He had the best short-run car of the group. I got a little break where the 32 got to him, got him a little loose and I was just able to take advantage. Thirteen months ago, Discount Tire called me and told me they wanted me to drive this car. I knew it was going to be something special, but I didn't know it would be this good. I'm happy to finally get this Gateway win," Keselowski said.
Bliss came across the finish line second, Keselowski's teammate Justin Allgaier took third after starting from the pole position and leading a race-high 88 laps, and Leffler closed out the race fourth.
Allgaier, from nearby Riverside, Ill., generated his eighth top-five and 19th top-10 finish of the season on his home track which is not scheduled to play host to either Nationwide or Camping World Truck competition in the foreseeable future.
"We felt we had an awesome racecar in practice the whole time. We sat on the pole and had the dominant car in the race. Unfortunately, we couldn't get off pit road and we made a bad call there at the end (on a Lap 192 caution pit stop). I think if we'd have restarted on the outside like Brad did, we'd have been okay.
"It's unfortunate. I hate to see this racetrack go, it's one that will be missed by all the drivers I know. We'll go on to see what we can do at Texas," said Allgaier, who ranks fourth in this week's standings and 866 points behind Keselowski.
Bliss, who made 28 series starts this season in the No. 40 owned by Curtis Key, made his third start of the season with Kevin Harvick, Inc., and rocketed to his first top-five and third top-10 finish with the team. He owns a total of two top-five and four top-10 finishes this season. "We were alright today; we weren't as good as we were yesterday (in practice). I was a little disappointed on longer runs. All in all, it was a good finish. Taking two tires was the right call at the end. Throughout the race, I was trying to pop third gear in Turn 1, but couldn't get my timing down. I was too loose to hit third gear and it just jacked the car out of the way. Finally, we got it tightened up to where I could do it and it helped a lot," Bliss said.
The series returns to action for Race No. 33 of 35 on Nov. 6 at Texas Motor Speedway. Coverage begins at noon on ESPN2 and 12:15 p.m., on the Performance Racing Network radio and Sirius XM 128.
Story by Mike Schmaltz