BETTER LATE THAN NEVER FOR KESELOWSKI
Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion and most recent race winner at Charlotte, Brad Keselowski, will visit with fans in the Speedway Club on Saturday, November 16. (photo courtesy: John Harrelson, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)
Brad Keselowski couldn’t defend his Sprint Cup championship in the 2013 Chase For The Sprint Cup — but on Saturday night, he played the spoiler.
Keselowski muscled his way into Victory Lane at Charlotte — past the dominant Hendrick Motorsports cars and points leader Matt Kenseth to become the first non-Chase driver to win a Chase race since Kasey Kahne at Phoenix in 2011 — to end a 37-race winless drought.
Keselowski passed Kahne for his final lead of the night and keeping the No. 2 Penske Racing Ford at the front of the field over the final nine laps. NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points leader Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch completed the top five. The victory snapped a thirty-seven-race winless streak for Keselowski, whose last trip to Gatorade Victory Lane came in September 2012 at Dover.
“It was just a never-give-up night,” said Keselowski. “We didn’t qualify well, but we kept working our way forward. I’m not sure we were as good as the 48 or the 5. I never got to really race them until the end and they had two tires, so I think we were probably pretty even.”
Keselowski’s 2013 season had been marked by a goose egg in the win column, crippling NASCAR penalties for rule violations and his failure to qualify for the post-season Chase. But many, if not all, of the “negatives” were forgotten with a huge “positive” Saturday night – Keselowski’s tenth career victory and first at Charlotte. He led a total of only eleven laps but made them count after starting 23rd in the 43-car field. It’s the farthest back a Charlotte race winner has started since Kevin Harvick qualified 28th for the 2011 Coca-Cola 600.
Saturday night, a late-race decision to take on four fresh tires helped Keselowski track down race leader Kahne … who took only two … and make the winning pass. Johnson and Kahne, teammates at Hendrick Motorsports, combined to lead 268 of the 334 laps. Pole sitter Jeff Gordon led the first 26 laps in a third Hendrick Motorsports car and finished seventh.
“We had a great race,” said Kahne. “I was on two (tires) and he (Keselowski) was on four (tires) and he could just move around a little bit better. I was doing all I could and felt pretty good, but he made some nice moves and just really had some speed there late in the race and was able to get by me.”
With his third-place finish, Kenseth inched out to a four-point lead over Johnson with the Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup now at its halfway point. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17. The next round is this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.
Keselowski tempted fate on Lap 87 when he was penalized after his jack stuck under the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford — and made a lap around the track. The driver served his stop-and-go penalty, restarted 22nd and fought valiantly through traffic over the next 243 laps.
Spotter Joey Meyer then instructed his driver, “Whatever you need, whatever you want, go get the five.”
Keselowski did just that. He and Kahne raced side by side, trading position at the point several times before Keselowski finally commanded the lead on Lap 325 and for final nine laps.
“It’s been a tough year, man, appreciate you hanging in there,” Wolfe said over the radio after the race. “Everybody on this team has been working hard. Hopefully, we’ve turned the corner here. Thank you.”
Until last weekend’s on-track altercation with Kyle Busch in the Nationwide Series race at Kansas Speedway, Keselowski went virtually unnoticed in the Chase. A penalty stemming from illegal suspension pieces in April at Texas Motor Speedway slowed the No. 2’s momentum for a repeat title run.
And while Keselowski didn’t drop out of the top 12 for the first time until mid-season, bad luck, miscues and inevitably and untimely engine failure at Richmond — the last race before the Chase — dealt the final blows.
After a brutal start at Charlotte when NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader Matt Kenseth couldn’t find his way into the top 15, the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team pulled together for one heck of a recovery for a third-place finish.
“They did an incredible job tonight,” Kenseth said. “I'm sure I had him frustrated by run 2, because I was getting cranky that I couldn't get my car to turn, and man, they did some really nice adjustments to really wake it up. That's hard to do on pit road these days, and they did a good job of that.”
By Lap 130 — during green-flag pit stops — Kenseth worked his way to the point and remained in the top 10 throughout the remainder of the race. While his car never seemed quite strong enough to contend for the win, Kenseth’s greatest challenge was holding off Jimmie Johnson.
Kenseth entered the weekend with a three-point advantage over Johnson, who proved early to be the class of the field. The No. 48 Chevy led 130 of the first 307 laps, but lost the lead in the pits, and his car wasn’t nearly as effective outside of the point.
Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is the sixth race of the Chase at Talladega on Sunday, October 20 (1:00 p.m. EDT, ESPN, Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 90)—Race 31 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 15-17). The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion James Buescher will appear at the Speedway Club on Friday (November 15), while NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski will visit with fans in the Speedway Club on Saturday (November 16). Two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., now a full-time participant in the Sprint Cup Series, will be in the Speedway Club on Sunday (November 17).