KESELOWSKI TAMES THE MONSTER MILE
Having run in the top three all afternoon, Hamlin had no choice but to pit for fuel with 10 laps remaining, surrendering the lead to eventual winner Brad Keselowski (photo courtesy: Jerry Markland, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)
Brad Keselowski took back the championship lead after he had enough fuel to win at Dover.
Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe used fuel mileage strategy to score their fifth win of the season and second of the Chase in Sunday’s race at the “Monster Mile.” The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup which 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.
He held off a late push from runner-up Jeff Gordon to match Denny Hamlin for the season victory total with five. It was the Penske Racing driver’s first career Dover win in six starts.
“Just proud of the effort,” said Keselowski. “This has been one of my worst tracks. Man, if we keep doing this the next seven weeks it will be an awesome seven weeks. I’m just really, really proud of the effort today.”
Keselowski pitted on Lap 311 and was able to stretch his fuel load the final 89 circuits while others came up short to take the checkered flag. Jimmie Johnson had his record eighth win at Dover in sight until he was forced to start saving fuel with about 15 laps left. Crew chief Chad Knaus told Johnson to yield the lead so the No. 48 could at least salvage a top five.
''I wish we could have raced for it,'' said Johnson, a five-time Cup champion. ''We finally got control of the race late. But it just didn't unfold like a normal race here.''
Keselowski's strong start to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship allowed him to wrestle away the points lead from Johnson. Keselowski holds a five-point lead over Johnson as the Chase shifts to Talladega.
Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin have staked their claim through the first three of 10 Chase races as the drivers to beat. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup which 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.
Johnson and Hamlin each led a chunk of laps on the mile concrete oval, but failed to stretch their fuel to the end. Johnson, who has seven career wins at Dover, was ordered to back off the gas and salvaged a fourth-place finish. Hamlin pitted with 10 laps left, opening the door for Keselowski. Hamlin faded to eighth after starting from the pole.
''They're not going to beat us on the track, that's just plain and simple,'' Hamlin said. ''We're just too fast right now and I feel like everything is going well. These strategy games, and the way these cautions are falling, it's ill-timed.''
Kyle Busch dominated the race, leading 302 of the 400 laps. He took the lead from Hamlin on Lap 35 and was on cruise control over the next 250 laps. He led 256 of the first 300 laps, including a stretch of 116 laps at one point. He finished seventh.
There were some rough finishes for the rest of the Chase field. Martin Truex Jr. was sixth, Clint Bowyer was ninth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 11th, Kevin Harvick 13th, Kasey Kahne 15th, Greg Biffle 16th, Tony Stewart 20th, and Matt Kenseth was knocked out of the race and was 35th.
There are seven races left in the Chase.
''By no means, do I feel like we're the favorite,'' Keselowski said. ''Certainly, we're not the underdog.''
Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Gordon, followed his third place last week at New Hampshire with another strong run at Dover. He needed it after a 35th-place finish in the opener at Chicagoland buried him in the standings. Gordon is 10th in points.
''We're not going to continue in this championship against those guys up front if they keep running the way they're running,'' he said. ''The only way we're going to get a chance at them is if they have a problem like we had (in the opener). If we keep running like this, we'll get the wins.''
Next up for the Sprint Cup Series drivers is Talladega on Sunday, October 7 (2:00 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.