Sunday, July 1, 2012

Keselowski claims third victory of season, winning at Kentucky

Brad Keselowski "Tebows" in victory lane.
Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Brad Keselowski won Saturday's Quaker State 400 to clinch his third victory of the season as he also attempts to secure a berth into the 2012 Chase. Now 10th in the championship points standings, Keselowski says to win the championship, you have to win races, which clearly he is doing.

It was a busy weekend at Kentcuky for Keselowski; tonight’s Cup race was his third race of the weekend. Starting Thursday, he raced for his own team in the Camping World Truck Series and in the Nationwide race on Friday he was behind the wheel of the No. 22 for Roger Penske. The triple-header weekend was quite a feat on the hottest weekend of the year, with temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees. Of note: Keselowski finished 2nd in the NCWTS race and 7th in the Nationwide race.

Things were not as easy on the Cup side of things as the weekend started off rough for Keselowski. On Friday, he hit the wall hard during the first lap of the first practice session. With severe damage to the car, he had to switch to a backup car. He told reporters it was the car he had in Martinsville last fall.

To start Saturday’s race, he started in the eighth spot and quickly took the lead at Lap 34. Keselowski stayed in the top five for the majority of the race, battling with Kyle Busch for the lead. He fought with the No. 11 for a lap and when Hamlin went in for a cycle of green flag pit stops, Keselowski led. He then ran out of fuel as he came in for his pit stop. That didn’t slow him down for long though, he restarted the race and he could smell victory. Keselowski continued to fight hard to regain the lead until he got it. He held on tight to it for the final laps and claimed his third victory, the most of any driver this season.

While Keselowski was the dominant story of the night, Kasey Kahne was a man on a mission. After starting in 19th, making gains, failing to 35th and back again, Kahne was the biggest mover of the night. With one win and 14th in the points currently, Kahne holds the second wild card spot in the Chase.

Kahne went a lap down when he had to pull in for an unscheduled pit stop, reporting to crew chief Kenny Francis there was a vibration. His right front wheel was loose, so they made the call to change all four tires and restarted in 35th position. After getting the lucky dog and being on the lead lap, Kahne was able to climb from 22nd to 11th in no time. Time was not on his side, as he picked off cars left and right, the laps ticked away. Keselowski had the lead and he was 3.8 seconds behind.

“We had a really good Quaker State Chevrolet,” said Kahne, who started in 19th and fought hard for his second-place finish. “We had to pass a ton of cars and came up a little short, but the team did a great job. Kenny (Francis, crew chief) called a great race.”

Third place finisher Denny Hamlin had a few bad weeks recently; starting in third was a positive start to the night. After two DNFs in a row, a win would re-energize the team, but he finished where he started, in third.

The second positive for the No. 11 FedEx fans was Hamlin's announcement that he signed another contract with Joe Gibbs Racing. He tweeted, “IT'S OFFICIAL. I've signed an extension with @JoeGibbsRacing. Happy to know where my future is. Excited for tonight and beyond with my team.”

His teammate Kyle Busch started tonight’s race in second, which was also a great start for the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota team. Busch suffered three weeks of DNFs for engine failures. He immediately took the lead and in the end he led 118 laps. He ran into some problems during the race, but not so severe that he had to pull out of the race and interrupt his good night. In the end, Busch finished in 10th. He is 12th in points, and in position for the first wild card spot.

Other noteworthy news: Jimmie Johnson started on the pole tonight. It was his first pole win since 2010, and his first at Kentucky Speedway. Johnson’s record at the track isn’t the most impressive, so he had hoped to change that tonight by winning his third race of the season. He stayed in the top 5 for the first half of the race. Johnson led 21 laps Saturday; he's certainly made progress at the 1.5 mile speedway but unfortunately, bad luck returned to his team. With 48 laps to go, Johnson restarted in 5th position but he fell behind to 11th – there was debris on his tires – he thought he felt something loose. Fortunately, it wasn’t a severe problem, so he was able to finish the race in the sixth position. Johnson is now third in points.

The biggest disappointment had to be for Carl Edwards, who started in 25th in the UPS No. 99 Ford. Edwards was a fast mover, he gained a lot of positions throughout the night and found himself in third place as the laps wound down. Unfortunately, he didn’t have enough fuel to hold on to the position and had to pit, finishing 20th.

Also in the discussion of disappointments for the day: Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman. Stewart's problem was fixed once the No. 14 crew replaced the EFI injection. The reigning Cup champion finished the race in 32nd, 36 laps down. Teammate Ryan Newman blew an engine and hit the outside wall, finishing in 34th.

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