Sunday, September 7, 2014

Brad Keselowski dominates Richmond closer, earning top seed in the Chase

                                          Credit: Carol D'Agostino/Skirts and Scuffs

Like many times in this NASCAR season, what was expected wasn't delivered at Richmond on Saturday night, but what we got was unpredictable and sometimes bizarre.

The regular-season closer was billed as THE race where winless drivers racing to get into the playoffs would take no prisoners. However, from the green to the checkered flags, what we saw was a dominant win from pole sitter, and now the top seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Brad Keselowski. In fact, Keselowski led 383 laps, the most in a scheduled 400-lap Richmond race.

Wait? Isn't that a rerun from Friday night when pole sitter Kyle Busch gave a primer on speed and dominance in the NASCAR Nationwide Series? Correct. Well at least last night's Sprint Cup race did feature four lead changes as Kevin Harvick, who was the favorite going into the race, tried to keep up with Keselowki on the track. Although the No. 4 showed good speed, it was off the track in the pits that hurt Harvick the most, an issue that has plagued the No. 4 team consistently this year.

For Keselowki, he went into the race expecting to chase Kevin Harvick, but it ended up the other way around.

"I pulled into victory lane and I pinched myself once to make sure I wasn't dreaming. These are nights you don't forget as a driver and you live for. The Miller Lite Ford Fusion was just flying. I couldn't ask for a better way to enter the Chase than to win and take the first seed. We're ready. We want to run for another Cup.  We really feel like this team has it. Team Penske is really clicking," said Keselowski.

Last night's Richmond win was his fourth win of the season, his 14th victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and the 400th win for team owner Roger Penske.

"For me it's a special time. To compete at the level we are. It's so close, this thing can go any way. To me, the pit stops are important. We obviously have put a lot of effort into that," said Penske.

That effort showed as the No. 2 team scored the best pit road times at Richmond with a total average of 39.171 seconds, edging out Joey Logano's No. 22 team, who came in at 39.266. Comparably, Harvick's team had the eighth fastest time with 39.859 seconds.

Finishing ninth and 19th respectively, Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle locked up the final two spots in the Chase. The 16 contenders, in order by seed, are Keselowski, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Logano, Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger, Matt Kenseth, Biffle and Newman.

Last night's race wasn't without weird and scary moments though. A caution was called at lap 331 when a shirtless spectator climbed the Turn 4 catchfence.

In addition, six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Johnson had to be taken to the infield care center after the race to be treated for dehydration. Johnson was able to climb from his car, but began cramping. He sat in the pits briefly while being treated by medical personnel, but was later transported by golf cart to the care center where he received IV fluids. He is conspicuously missing from the "Sweet 16" group photo of the playoff contenders.

                                         Credit: Richmond International Raceway

As the playoffs unfold in Chicagoland, next weekend we will find out if the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase will be unpredictable and crown a new champ or tried and true and reward a previous champion. Stay tuned.

Here are the official results of last night's Federated Auto Parts 400:

1. Brad Keselowski
2. Jeff Gordon
3. Clint Bowyer
4.  Jamie McMurray
5.  Kevin Harvick
6.  Joey Logano
7.  Kurt Busch
8.  Jimmie Johnson
9.  Ryan Newman
10. Aric Almirola
11. Kyle Larson
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
13. Brian Vickers
14. Kyle Busch
15. Tony Stewart
16. Danica Patrick
17. Kasey Kahne
18. Paul Menard
19. Greg Biffle
20. Austin Dillon
21. Denny Hamlin
22. Carl Edwards
23. AJ Allmendinger
24. Reed Sorenson
25. Martin Truex Jr.
26. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
27. Marcos Ambrose
28. Justin Allgaier
29. David Gilliland
30. Cole Whitt
31. Casey Mears
32. Josh Wise
33. David Ragan
34. Landon Cassill
35. Mike Bliss
36. David Stremme
37. Michael Annett
38. Alex Bowman
39. Travis Kvapil
40. Joe Nemechek  
41. Matt Kenseth
42. Ryan Truex
43. JJ Yeley














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