July 11, 2012Going into the three-day race weekend at Kentucky Speedway at the end of June, Brad Keselowski had high hopes of leaving Kentucky with three winners' trophies. Keselowski didn't get his wish, but he didn't have a bad weekend, as he finished second in the Craftsman Series truck race, seventh in the Nationwide Series and then bounced back to win the Quaker State 400 Sprint Cup race in front of almost 100,000 fans.
"I wanted all three, but sometimes that ain't meant to happen," Keselowski said. "I was proud of the effort we put in all week long and the heat with all three teams. Who would have figured my best finish would have come in the hardest race? That just shows the importance of teamwork."
Keselowski had to face a lot of adversity even before the race began. First, the team had to pull out its backup car after problems with the primary. Then, a problem developed in the backup just after the engines were fired.
"They put together a backup car from last year in 100-degree heat in an hour's time, not even an hour," Keselowski said. "It was like 40 minutes. I wish I had a stopwatch for that. Got it on the race track and run our laps for practice to make the adjustments we needed to be fast today."
Then, just as the car began to pull away for the race, Keselowski's steering wheel broke.
"I've never seen that happen before," he said. "It was a standard MOMO wheel that you get off at the racetrack here or a typical vendor. It had a lot of miles on it. I don't think it was the wheel on the car that wrecked, but I put it on before the race started, gave it a tug and it broke in my hands."
Jimmie Johnson had his No. 48 car on the pole, but Kyle Busch had the better jump and went flying to the front ahead of Denny Hamlin while Johnson fell to third. Kevin Harvick moved into fourth and Ryan Newman fifth.
Busch pushed his lead to 0.927 of a second over Hamlin in the first 25 laps. By this time, Keselowski had pushed to third, with Johnson fourth and Clint Bowyer fifth. Busch led the first 38 laps, then Keselowski took over as he made the pass in Turn 4.
Track workers try to hold up what is left of a large food tent after 70-mph winds blew through Kentucky Speedway just before the Sprint Cup qualifications. There were two reports of injuries as well as damage to other tents in the area. The winds were spawned off a massive storm in central Ohio that left a wide swath of damage and injuries.
The first caution of the day came on Lap 42 when Scott Riggs' car slowed. The field came in for service, and, at the end, Busch was in front again ahead of Keselowski.
"This thing is awesome," Keselowski said from his car as his team gave him the full service treatment.
Busch, Johnson, Keselowski, Hamlin and Bowyer ran in that order as the green flag came back out on Lap 48. Busch stayed in front until Lap 97, when he came in for a green flag stop, handing the lead back to Johnson. As servicing cycled around, Busch moved back to the front, leading by 0.297 of a second over Keselowski after 100 circuits of the track.
The race continued in green until Lap 126 when the yellow flag flew once again for debris on the front straight-away, possibly after Busch tagged the backstretch wall on Lap 118. Busch continued to lead through the pit stops but finally gave up the front spot to Hamlin on Lap 130, making the pass on the backstretch.
"The tires didn't drop off like you hoped that they would," Hamlin said. "I think Goodyear needs to re-evaluate the tire they have here. Something a little bit softer falls off so there's more passing. Right now, during green flag runs, it's just, you catch someone, and it's very, very hard. We ran left-side tires for almost 100 laps, and there was still just no wear. I talked to Good-year, and they said they were going to change it coming back."
The top five of Hamlin, Johnson, Busch, Keselowski and Bowyer stayed in that order through the halfway point and through Lap 150. At that point, the field started pitting and the lead changed hands through Johnson, Casey Mears and back to Hamlin.
The biggest incident of the night came on Lap 162 when Bowyer, Joey Logano and Harvick had a little game of bump-and-run on the front straight, sending all three to the pits for repairs. With 92 laps to go, Hamlin owned a lead of 0.739 of a second over Johnson. Keselowski was still in fourth, but Jeff Gordon had moved Chevrolet up to fourth with Busch fifth.
Johnson moved to the front on Lap 189 as the race passed the 200-lap mark under green. A cluster of lead changes erupted, and, on Lap 208, Busch passed Keselowski for the front spot. A couple of circuits later, Busch came in for needed service and Johson went back to the front.
Caution flew again on Lap 211 when Ryan Newman found the wall between turns 1 and 2. The field pitted, and Keselowski was out in front and ready to get some work done. By Lap 225, his lead was 1.477 seconds, and, with 25 to go, it was 3.427 seconds.
In the final laps, Keselowski stayed in the front spot to win by a margin of 0.4399 of a second, while Kasey Kahne came out of nowhere to finish second. Hamlin finished third. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fourth, and Gordon was fifth.
Keselowski said right now the main goal is to stay in the top 10 for the Chase.
"I think looking ahead means trying to make sure we just stay in the top 10," he said. "You look at who is leading with the most points earned … The only thing that means anything is what's going to restart when the Chase is going, when it starts. That's going to be based off of who is in the top 10 and who has the most wins. That is the only thing that matters."
Kahne said he would have needed some luck on his side to be able to catch Keselowski.
"I was hoping he'd run out of gas," Kahne said with a laugh. "There's no way I was catching him. We pitted, so we had enough gas to run as hard as I could all the way to the finish. I was hoping his would shut off."
Kahne also said his car's handling kept him on the bottom of the track most of the time.
"I had to run the bottom the first 20 laps," he said. "It seemed as soon as I'd get off the bottom, I'd just four-wheel slide. I couldn't make it work. I kept trying outside, then later on I was able to make a little bit of speed on the outside of both corners, both ends and still run the bottom pretty well."
"When we lost the lead with about 70 to go, it seemed like we immediately had to go into fuel-save mode," Hamlin said. "We knew we had to save fuel that entire last run. There was really nothing I could do. As much as I wanted to keep (Keselowski) honest and run them hard, I had to just run a certain pace, and that's all I was really allowed to do if I was going to make it to the end."
With the Chase almost at hand, Keselowski said there is only one thing left to do to win the championship.
"Got to win races," he said. "Tony (Stewart) proved it last year. You've got to win races. You don't back away from the Chase. Don't rest on your laurels. You've got to have a fast car when the Chase starts, with great reliability and great execution. It's going to take all three, and those three are going to win races."
1. Brad Keselowski Dodge 267 Running
2. Kasey Kahne Chevrolet 267 Running
3. Denny Hamlin Toyota 267 Running
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 267 Running
5. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 267 Running
6. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 267 Running
7. Matt Kenseth Ford 267 Running
8. Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 267 Running
9. A.J. Almendinger Dodge 267 Running
10. Kyle Busch Toyota 267 Running
11. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 267 Running
12. Paul Menard Chevrolet 267 Running
13. Marcos Ambrose Ford 267 Running
14. Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 267 Running
15. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 267 Running
16. Clint Bowyer Toyota 267 Running
17. Travis Kvapil Toyota 267 Running
18. Casey Mears Ford 267 Running
19. Kurt Busch Chevrolet 267 Running
20. Carl Edwards Ford 266 Running
21. Greg Biffle Ford 266 Running
22. Joey Logano Toyota 266 Running
23. David Reutimann Chevrolet 266 Running
24. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 266 Running
25. Landon Cassell Toyota 266 Running
26. Aric Almirole Ford 266 Running
27. Bobby LaBonte Toyota 265 Running
28. David Gilliland Ford 265 Running
29. David Ragan Ford 263 Running
30. Michael Waltrip Toyota 262 Running
31. Ken Schrader Ford 262 Running
32. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 231 Running
33. Regan Smith Chevrolet 209 Accident
34. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 209 Accident
35. Dave Blaney Chevrolet 144 Engine
36. David Stremme Toyota 71 Vibration
37. Josh Wise* Ford 60 Vibration
38, Michael McDowell Ford 58 Brakes
39. Scott Speed Ford 55 Brakes
40. Joe Nemechek Toyota 52 Overheating
41. Stephen Leicht* Chevrolet 47 Vibration
42. Mike Bliss Toyota 18 Overheating
43. Scott Riggs Chevrolet 12 Electrical
Time of Race: 2 hours, 45 minutes, 2 seconds
Average Speed: 145.607 mph
Margin of Victory: 4.399 seconds
Cautions: 4 for 24 laps
Lead Changes: 17 among 6 drivers