Keselowski Collects Second Consecutive Win At “World’s Fastest Half-Mile Track
Brad Keselowski had something to prove Sunday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway. He was determined to wipe away any questions about the validity of his victory at the .533-mile track last August. He left no doubt this time around, leading a career-high 232 laps en route to a convincing victory in the Food City 500.
For the middle of the race to the checkered flag, it was obvious the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger was the car to beat. Only Matt Kenseth was able to keep pace. The reason was simple. Keselowski had what he called "the best race car I've had in Cup."
"That's his job to not make it easy and he did a good job," said Keselowski of Kenseth's pursuit. "He raced me hard and I raced him hard. We rubbed a little bit, but that's good racing. I don't know how anyone can say Bristol racing is not as good as it was. I think they might be right, because it's better than it's ever been. This is one of the best races I've ever been a part of and ever seen from behind the seat. I'm just thrilled to death to be here in victory lane at Bristol again, one of my favorite places for sure. If this team keeps performing like they are, we'll get more."
The "Blue Deuce" took the lead for the first time on lap 217 and raced within the top three the rest of the afternoon.
Keselowski led 89 laps in his win at "The World's Fastest Half-Mile Track" last fall, but detractors say he and several other drivers took advantage of the limited timing lines on pit road and didn't follow the posted speed at all times – an advantage. He took it personally and set out to prove his point.
"I got on Twitter and got kind of PO'd at some people that said I won it (last fall) because of the timing line," he said. "I knew this Blue Deuce was fast enough to win the race last fall with or without timing lines. It feels so good to just prove it here today in the spring race."
NASCAR added timing segments prior to this race to remedy the issue, but the change proved to be no issue for Keselowski. His over-the-wall pit crew made sure he didn't have to push the speed limit as the No. 2 Dodge spent the third least amount of time on pit road among all competitors. Just as flawless as the pit stops were the adjustments crew chief Paul Wolfe made during each stop.
There was a close call early (lap 23) that took out several front runners. Keselowski's Dodge received minor damage in a seven-car mishap that included cars running 5-13 on the grid. He managed to weave his way through the mishap and avoid the kind of damage that sent five cars to the garage for repairs.
The fifth caution of the day appeared on 479. While a number of the 15 cars on the lead lap elected to pit for tires, there was no question in the mind of Wolfe. The Blue Deuce was staying out. Kenseth did likewise.
"Probably the toughest decision of the race for me was whether or not we should pit or stay out there on that late caution," said Wolfe. "I have a great race engineer, Brian Wilson, that definitely helps me make some of those tough decisions. Looking at where we were at in the race and the speed that we had in our car, we felt like if we stayed out, even with fresh tires, it was going to be real tough to pass us. Like I told Brad, let's stay out and make them pass us. There wasn't anybody on fresh tires that was able to do that."
Keselowski jumped eight positions in the season point standings. He's now 13th, five points out of 12th and 10 out of 10th.
Teammate A.J. Allmendinger qualified second in the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge Charger and spent the first 100 laps at the front of the field. He took the lead from pole winner and point leader Greg Biffle on lap 42 and led 54 circuits before slowing with handling issues. The problem persisted over the next 150 laps, dropping Allmendinger back in the field. It was a deficit he could not overcome. He finished 17th.
"The car was very good early, but then it got real loose," he said. "We lost track position and couldn't get it back. It's not the finish we wanted after starting out so strong. Those first couple runs my Shell Pennzoil Dodge was really fast. Then after we put on that next set of tires, something just wasn't right -- felt like I had rocks under me. Thought maybe it was the tires and after a while I started to think something broke. Todd (Gordon, crew chief) and the guys did all they could to make it better again. The last couple adjustments started to help. We just weren't able to get the car where it needed to be to get back to the front."
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES (NNS)
With the exception of a disappointing finish at Las Vegas due to a fuel issue, Brad Keselowski has scored top-three finishes in the other three races this season. He finished third in Saturday's 300-lap event at Bristol Motor Speedway after opening the season with back-to-back runner-up finishes. Keselowski qualified seventh and ran at the front throughout the event. Teammate Sam Hornish Jr. finished 13th. He is sixth in the season point standings, 49 behind the leader and eight out of fifth.
The Dodge/Hart & Huntington team started the season with four riders. When the series converged on Indianapolis Saturday night for the 11th event in the 17-race series, a visit to the free-agent market had been made earlier in the week as the team was down to one rider. By the time qualifying for the 20-lap Main Event began, the free agent was the only rider wearing the Hart & Huntington green colors. Josh Hansen, the final member of the original four, was unable to compete due to a lingering ankle injury. Teammates Josh Hill, Ivan Tedesco and Kyle Partridge were injured earlier in the season and remained sidelined. An MRI is planned for Hansen on Monday. Kyle Regal, the newcomer, finished second in the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ) to advance to the Main Event. He rode as high as 13th in the feature before finishing 16th.
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES (NCWTS)
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will be idle until March 31 when the series visits Martinsville Speedway for a 250-lap event on the .533-mile track.