Red-Flag Rains Send Keselowski to Feed The Children 300 Victory Lane
Kentucky Speedway's Feed the Children 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race was shortened by a rain with 30 of 200 race laps remaining, but the weather may simply have sped the inevitable as Brad Keselowski was well on his way to scoring his second victory in his past three series starts the track when light rain forced the event to fall under a red flag.
The Rochester Hills, Mich., driver and his No. 22 Penske Racing Ford marched from the 19th starting position, moved to second on Lap 74, then caught and passed Kyle Busch and his 54 Joe Gibbs Racing car for the lead on Lap 99. Keselowski only relinquished the lead once during a pit stop from that point forward.
He extended his race lead to almost a full second when the fifth and final caution flag of the night flew when rain arrived on Lap 164. The field circled the track under yellow until the race went under the red flag six laps later.
With radar indicating stronger storms approaching and with the race already official by rule having expired more than half the scheduled laps. NASCAR ended the event and Keselowski performed the first smokeless burnout in track history in his No. 22 at the start/finish line.
"You know, I didn't want it to end this way but we had a great car and we were able to drive to the front. We didn't qualify like we wanted to (19th), but (Crew Chief) Jeremy Bullins and his team did a great job. They have been working so well with Greg Erwin and Sam Hornish's team.
"We deserve these results. I feel lucky to drive this car. This is the type of car you get once a year, if you are lucky. Driving this car, I feel like Jimmie Johnson. This is a rocket.
"With so many things not going our way this year, I guess it was finally time for something to go our way. So we will take this win and I'm really looking forward to another great race tomorrow night," Keselowski said under the cover of a garage stall during a Victory Lane celebration.
He earned his fifth top-five and sixth top-10 Kentucky NNS finish and owns the all-time series track lead in both categories through six starts. His only finish outside a Kentucky NNS top five was a seventh-place showing in last season's Feed The Children 300. He closed out the shortened evening leading 59 race laps, second only to Busch's 74 lap total.
Keselowski also is the fourth driver in as many races this season to claim a victory in the Penske Racing No. 22. A.J. Allmendinger scored a Road America victory in the ride last week in Wisconsin.
Elliott Sadler took second in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing car, Matt Crafton captured third in his first NNS start in the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing machine, Brian Vickers took fourth in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing machine and Busch completed the top five.
Sadler wasn't certain that he had enough horsepower to catch Keselowski in 30 laps if the race resumed.
"As a racer, you always want to see a restart to get the opportunity to win the race, but Brad and those guys definitely have a strong car. He got me loose when he was behind me and made a good pass, but it seemed like he was just saving his stuff a little bit in front of me.
"I'm going to be honest with you, I'm just so proud of this team today. We struggled a little bit last night (in practice). We definitely struggled this morning (in practice), but (Crew Chief) Chris (Gayle) and myself met for an hour and half after practice, really changed a lot of things on this car and then it was good in qualifying and really good in racing.
"This has really been a gut-check day for our race team. Whether we get to go back racing or if it ends right now, I'm really proud of how my guys reacted and responded today to this weekend," Sadler said after collecting his third top-five and fourth top-10 Kentucky Speedway NNS finish through as many starts.
Crafton showed heart in his series debut by making a charge from 11th -place on Lap 20 to third when the race was called.
"I can promise you one thing: If we were going to go back green, it was going to be interesting getting into Turn 1. I was going to make one thing happen one way or another, whether it was going to be ugly or whether it was going to be good.
"We rolled off the trailer and we were two-tenths quicker than anybody else here. It was an honor to drive the car tonight," he said.
Sam Hornish Jr.'s ninth-place finish tonight, combined with championship leader Regan Smith's transmission woes which led to eventual 30th-place finish, Smith will hold an eight-point edge in the standings when the series goes green July 5 at Daytona International Speedway.
Kyle Busch looked to be the driver to beat in the early going. The NASCAR Sprint Cup regular passed pole sitter Austin Dillon, a two-time series winner at the track last season, for the lead on Lap 19.
"I've got four cars to pass first, or three, or however many. I'm note good at math," Busch said before the race was called.
"I thought we had something really, really good early on, but the No. 22 was taking his time coming through traffic.
"Once he got there, he was just stellar. Obviously, he had the best car. We made a lot of gains though. We were the ninth-place car earlier today, but (Crew Chief) Adam (Stevens) did a good job of making adjustments and getting us a really good racecar. I've just got a couple cars to pass before we can try challenge, but I don't know if we've got anything for him," he added.
Keselowski and Busch will have another chance to battle tomorrow night in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts.
Tickets are available and will be on sale beginning at noon tomorrow when gates open. Platinum-selling country music artist Billy Currington takes the prerace stage at 5:15 p.m. and the green flag will send Kentucky Speedway's third series field roaring to life at 7:46 p.m.
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