TIGHT AT THE TOP
Brad Keselowski couldn’t stretch his fuel as far as his two closest championship challengers and ran out of gas on Lap 276 of the 334-lap race at Charlotte (photo courtesy: Streeter Lecka, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)
Clint Bowyer was able to stretch his final fuel load to the checkered flag to win his first win in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship Saturday night, winning a fuel-mileage race that ended in disaster for points leader Brad Keselowski. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 18. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW.
Keselowski dominated Saturday night at Charlotte but ran out of gas with 58 laps remaining to blow his chance at the victory. He fell a lap down and finished 11th, and had his lead in the standings sliced in half over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
Bowyer, who was the only driver among the lead-lap finishers that made six pit stops, found a new line on the racetrack to help him go the final 56 laps on fuel. He held off Denny Hamlin in the closing laps to score his third victory of the season.
"I don't think I would have won the race had I not moved up and tried to figure out that outside line," Bowyer said. "A couple times, Jimmie (Johnson) was running me down and I was like, 'I'm going to go up here, back the corner up and try to make the arc of the radius as big as possible, to get the thing to turn.' Next thing you know, you're going faster and saving gas.”
Keselowski has a seven-point lead over Johnson at the halfway point of the 10-race Chase. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 18. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW.
Keselowski, who also ran out of gas Friday night in the Nationwide Series race because of a fueling error, then asked his crew if he led the most laps Saturday night. Indeed - he led 139 of the 334 - but had little to show for his effort.
''It's blackjack, you're not going to win every hand,'' he said. ''When you got a bad deal you have to try not to have too many chips on the table.''
But Keselowski was able to see a silver lining in still finishing 11th.
''It was the worst-case scenario,'' he said. ''We minimized the damage as best we could.''
Hamlin finished second and is third in the Chase, 15 points back, and Johnson finished third. Neither felt all that bad for Keselowski.
''Live by the sword, die by the sword,'' Hamlin said.
''I don't know how much it hurt him at the end of the day,'' Johnson said. ''I've been doing this long enough, too, when you see something happen, in your mind you're like there's an opportunity and before you know it, it happens to you.''
Both had to play their own fuel-saving game, especially in the closing laps. Hamlin couldn't make a run at winner Bowyer, and Johnson said he couldn't try to chase down Hamlin.
''We were just being really cautious and didn't want to go out there and chase (Hamlin) and get ourselves in trouble,'' Johnson said. ''We're getting really good at this fuel mileage stuff, it's hard to get it right.''
The race was the first since 1979 without an Earnhardt as Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat out with a concussion. The announcement was made Thursday after Earnhardt sought medical attention for a lingering headache from the 25-car accident Sunday at Talladega.
His doctor said he'd also sustained a concussion in an Aug. 29 crash at Kansas. Regan Smith got the start for Earnhardt, but it was short-lived. The engine in the No. 88 Chevrolet failed during the first third of the race, sending Smith to the garage for the night.
Smith is scheduled to be back in the car this week at Kansas, which has two open days of testing and gives Smith more time to get acclimated with the Hendrick Motorsports crew.
''It's a good team, it's a good car and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports does a great job,'' Smith said. ''I'm looking forward to next week. I'm getting comfortable with the cars, comfortable with the equipment. Should be fun to go to Kansas.''
Next up for the Sprint Cup Series drivers is Kansas on Sunday, October 21 (1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN and MRN Radio) — en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 16-18). Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now.