Brad Keselowski wheeled his Penske Racing Dodge to his third NASCAR Sprint Cup victory of the season, easily winning Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
In the process, Keselowski became the first three-time winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season, virtually locking him into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The Michigan native scored his seventh career victory in 106 Sprint Cup starts.
The triumph was especially impressive, given that Keselowski crashed on the first lap of practice Friday and won in a backup car.
“This is my Martinsville car from the Chase last year,” said Keselowski. “This ain’t the newest car we’ve got, but it sure runs. So, I’m proud of (crew chief) Paul Wolfe and proud of my team, fast race car. We fought back through adversity all week in 100 degree temperatures, got this car out, got it ready on the race track to practice and that hard work, that was the weekend for us. That’s what got us in victory lane.”
Keselowski said his boss appreciates the value of hard work.
“Roger Penske — I’m sure he’s watching — he’ll tell you that hard work equals results,” said Keselowski. “This team works hard and today we got the results.
Kasey Kahne passed Denny Hamlin with four laps to go to finish second. Hamlin hung onto third, with Kahne’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson next.
Kahne went down a lap early after he had to make a second pit stop for a loose wheel, but he rebounded nicely.
Johnson started from the pole, but it was last year’s winner, Kyle Busch, who took the lead on the start, pulling his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin with him into second place.
Defending series champion Tony Stewart made it just 27 laps into the race before having to pit with electronic engine management problems.
Up front, Busch led the first 34 laps, but then Keselowski blew by Busch like he was standing still for the night’s first lead change. Busch retook the lead on Lap 44 under the first caution, only to see Keselowski slowly reel him in again.
Still, Busch held off the occasional threats from the Penske Dodge to maintain the top spot. Busch had a slight wallbanger on Lap 118 that didn’t immediately slow the speedy No. 18 Toyota, but as the race wore on he drifted back in the top five.
A debris caution on Lap 126 sent the field down pit road, with Busch holding sway and Hamlin advancing to second ahead of Keselowski and Johnson.
On the restart, the leaders went three-wide, with Hamlin taking the point for the first time on Lap 130. Johnson then began harassing Hamlin for the lead, and after multiple runs, finally got by the No. 11 on Lap 188.
At the same time, Busch began complaining of a broken shock or sway bar in back as he continued to lose ground.
Once Johnson got the nose of the No. 48 in clear air, he immediately opened a big lead, 1.796 seconds on Lap 200, when the next round of green-flag pit stops began.
Johnson had a slow stop on Lap 205, Keselowski and Busch ran out of fuel and then Ryan Newman blew up, hit the wall and brought out a caution on Lap 210.
Under the yellow Johnson and Earnhardt both pitted so they’d have enough gas to go the distance, while Busch’s crew frantically tried to repair his car.
With a lengthy stop to clean up the oil from Newman’s engine, Keselowski led a group of four cars that didn’t pit, leading Newman, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth, followed by Johnson and Earnhardt.
The race restarted on Lap 219, Keselowski breaking into the lead right away and Johnson getting very loose and falling all the way back to 11th.
Keselowski was unchallenged from then on, scoring a victory that will put him in great shape for a championship run.
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100.