Keselowski Cranks Out a Blue-Collar NSCS Quaker State 400 Victory
Brad Keselowski expertly managed fuel mileage for his No. 2 Penske Racing machine through the closing 56 laps of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) Quaker State 400 and captured his second career Kentucky Speedway victory tonight.
The 28 year old from Rochester Hills, Mich., becomes the second driver to own both NSCS and NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) titles at the track after taking a Feed The Children 300 title on July 8, 2011.
"We were gutsy today, had a fast car and drove to the lead on the first run. We waited for someone to make a mistake or give us a chance. Hard work equals results and today this team got the results. It feels pretty dang good," Keselowski said.
He drove to the pits under green flag conditions on Lap 208 and saw his chances of stretching his fuel mileage to the end of the 267-lap marathon significantly improve when a caution flag flew on Lap 210 after Ryan Newman's No. 39 Stewart Haas Racing car lost its engine and connected with the Turn 2 wall.
Keselowski's Crew Chief Paul Wolfe made the call to keep the No. 2 on the track while other contenders came to pits to top their cars' fuel tanks. The team's strategy paid off when Keselowski went to the lead for the third and final time off a Lap 220 restart.
With a stout No. 2 continuing to build its lead, late charges from Hendrick Motorsports driver Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Quaker State car, Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 car, Dale Earnhardt Jr., in the No. 88 car and five-time NSCS champ Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 all came up shy.
Keselowski completed his three-race Kentucky Speedway weekend stretch owning tonight's victory, a seventh-place finish in Friday night's NNS Feed The Children 300 and a second-place showing in Thursday night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) UNOH 225.
"What a weekend. We hit the wall on Lap 1 of (NSCS) practice and brought out a back-up car. This is my Martinsville car from the Chase (for the NASCAR Sprint Cup) last year, so, it isn't the newest car we have but it sure does run.
"We fought through adversity all weekend long in 100-degree temperatures, got this car out and got it ready to practice on the racetrack. That hard work is what got us into Victory Lane tonight. I wanted to win all three this weekend, but if I had to pick one, this is the one," Keselowski added.
Kahne placed second in the Quaker State 400, Hamlin took third, Earnhardt Jr., raced under the checkered flag fourth and four-time NSCS champ Jeff Gordon closed out the race top five in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports machine.
Keselowski claimed his NSCS-leading third victory of the season and holds what could prove to be a decisive advantage as drivers determine Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup eligibility through the next nine events.
He will enter the July 7 NSCS race at Daytona International Speedway with a combined five top-five and seven top-10 finishes. He sits 10th in the NSCS standings and 96 points behind leader and Roush Fenway Racing driver Matt Kenseth, who deposited his 12th top-10 finish of the season with a seventh-place effort in the No. 17 Fifth Third Bank car tonight.
"Now we can look forward, we don't have to look back at all," Keselowski said.
Kahne encountered trouble early when he was forced to make a repeat pit stop to tighten loose lugnuts. He raced 34th on Lap 60 and valiantly cut his way through the field. He advanced to 22nd by Lap 135, 11th by Lap 195 and moved into the top 10 for the first time when he showed eighth on Lap 225. He advanced to fifth by Lap 255 before closing out the race with his fourth top-five and eighth top-10 finish of the season.
"We had to pass a ton of cars and came up a little short. The team was awesome. (Crew Chief) Kenny Francis called a great race and prepared an awesome car. My pit crew was really, really good. We just had a couple of mistakes at two different stops. We couldn't get enough track position, so we had to fight for a long time. I wish we could've caught Keselowski because we need the wins, but we came pretty close," Kahne said. Hamlin grabbed his eighth top-five and ninth top-10 finish of the season while Earnhardt Jr., collected his seventh top-five and 13th top-10 finish of the season. He will start next week's Daytona International Speedway race second in the series standings and 11 points behind Kenseth.
Racing returns to Kentucky Speedway Sept. 21-22 with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kentucky 201 and NASCAR Nationwide Series Kentucky 300.
Story by Mike Schmaltz