Keselowski Leaves Field Chasing Second Place
Crew members for Brad Keselowski begin to celebrate on the final lap of Keselowski's win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Loudon, N.H. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
Brad Keselowski celebrates with his girlfriend, Paige White, holding a lobster, in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Loudon, N.H. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)
Brad Keselowski celebrates after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, July 13, 2014, in Loudon, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
Loudon, n.h. — Brad Keselowski sat down for the post-race interviews, started answering the first question and couldn’t hide a hint of sadness in his voice. Three hundred and one laps of Sprint Cup racing were in the books, and the former series champion sounded like he wanted to run 301 more.
“I’m kind of quiet and somber because I want to soak it all in,” he said. “I don’t want this moment to go away so quick.”
It was an understandable way to feel. Keselowski found the fitting end to a dominant weekend, blowing away the field to win the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday. Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five, fine consolation prizes considering first was never an option.
“The team was just really on today,” Keselowski said, following it with a contented sigh. “It really feels like we hit our stride.”
Keselowski won Saturday’s Nationwide race as well, but armed with a dominant car that secured the fastest time in both Cup practices, he had no problem dazzling in the encore. He took the lead on lap 74 and held it for 138 of the remaining 223 laps, a number that would have been higher if not for time spent making up ground after pit stops moved him back in the order.
“I knew we had a great car, and you don’t take it for granted,” he said. “Someone else asked me the same question: ‘When you kept falling back in the pack, did you think it was going to be easy pickings to get up there?’ No, I didn’t. I knew it was going to be tough.”
Keselowski put himself far back after the first two pit stops (10th and 11th on laps 112 and 154, respectively) due to opting for four tires when the cars he was competing with instead chose two. It didn’t matter; he needed only 20 laps to regain each of the leads, the second of which he stretched to more than four seconds by the 200th lap.
A pair of cautions in the final third of the race threatened to make things interesting, but Keselowski and the No. 2 Ford were too strong. He lost the lead during a pit stop on lap 212 to Clint Bowyer, but regained it 11 laps after the restart, then pitted again during a caution on lap 249.
Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Busch, knowing they couldn’t pass Keselowski, tried instead to hold him off. They stayed on the track, gambling that they had enough speed — and enough fuel — to remain in front the rest of the 48 laps.
Seventeen laps later, Keselowski had the lead for good, with an uneventful green-white-checkered finish providing the last obstacle.
“Oh, no,” Busch said, when asked if he had any answer for Keselowski. “I don’t think anybody did. Denny was the best Gibbs car, so he probably had a better shot at him than any of us did.”
Busch held the first lead of the race, starting from the pole and leading until Hamlin, his teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, passed him on the 62nd lap. Hamlin stayed in front until Keselowski passed him during a green flag pit stop.
“(It) felt like we had a good car, but late in the runs it would just seem like I was burning up the front tires a little too much,” said Busch, who also finished second to Keselowski in the Nationwide race. “We just really couldn’t make any adjustments that would help the race car. Just seemed like we kept making adjustments that would either keep it the same or screw up something else.”
It was the second win in three races for Keselowski, who also took the checkered flag in Las Vegas early in the season before winning in Kentucky, and who’s back to showing his 2012 championship form after missing the Chase last year.
“It’s gratifying in a lot of ways,” he said. “I don’t think it’s just that we have three wins. I think that it’s that we’re leading laps. I think we were fast last year at this time, but we weren’t executing. This year we’re executing, which is really important.”
Gordon and Harvick, able to risk bad finishes with wins already this season, ran out of gas at the end and fell from the top five to 26th and 30th, respectively, allowing drivers needing wins to solidify their Chase hopes to crack the top of the order and have a shot at the green-white-checkered finish. Bowyer, who led 37 laps of the race, was in third but got stuck behind Harvick on the restart, allowing Larson, Kenseth and Newman to get ahead of him. Tony Stewart, also needing a win, was seventh.
“We get into position to get a top-five and a solid run and (Harvick) runs out of gas and stacks us all up on the bottom and a bunch of them get around us,” Bowyer said. “We’re here to win races. … We still got some work to do to catch up to the Fords and the Hendrick cars.”
One of those Fords was leading the field, and Bowyer wasn’t the only one who wasn’t going to have a chance to catch up.
“I think in a lot of ways we’re stronger than (2012),” Keselowski said. “I don’t think we’ve had this much speed before. We had tremendous speed today, and I think there’s potential left, like I said, with different things. So that’s all very encouraging to me. I feel like I’m in a really strong rhythm right now.”