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Keselowski Gets Penske Ball Rolling With NNS Win

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 27 2012

Brad Keselowski won his first Nationwide Series race of the season Friday and got Penske's weekend off to a fast start. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

CONCORD, N.C. – After winning Saturday’s History 300 NASCAR Nationwide race Brad Keselowski wasn’t concerned about the 600-miles and 90-degree heat facing him Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he was headed to Concord Motorsports Park to enjoy a night of short-track racing.

“I’ve got a couple of Late Models running up there so I think they’re racing tonight. I’ve got a designated driver so I’m going to have some fun with that,” Keselowski said with a laugh, “and hopefully, one of ‘em will win.”

For Keselowski, seeing one of his Late Models win at the half-mile track that resembles Pocono Raceway in design would be icing on his victory cake. With Keselowski’s first Nationwide Series victory this year and the 18th of his career, he provided team owner Roger Penske with the opportunity to sweep the weekend. Penske driver Ryan Briscoe will start on the pole for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, which the internationally famous team owner has won a record 15 times.

“You know, you’ve got three shots at winning races this weekend for Roger and Penske Racing. We’re one for one, so that’s good,” Keselowski said with a smile. “I think tomorrow [Sunday], my Cup car is excellent. It’s going to be tough to run with the 48 [Jimmie Johnson] and those guys. It always is.

“Anything can always go against you in a 600-mile race, but all you can hope for is to have speed and for things to go your way. You can control some of the latter and all of the first. So we’ve got what I feel like is a great shot at tomorrow [Sunday] to get two out of three and hopefully, over in Indy, they’ll be able to pull it off. One way or another, the checkered flag at Penske Racing is going to fly this week and that’s great for the guys.”

In Saturday’s History 300, Keselowski didn’t flex his Dodge’s muscle at the front until lap 134 of the 200-lap race. The 28-year-old driver then never relinquished it, leading the final 67 laps. Perhaps more phenomenal, however, was that Keselowski made it the final 73 laps on a tank of fuel. Something that third-place finisher Kyle Busch said he could never do.

“That’s definitely different, but I guess anything is possible sometimes,” Busch responded when asked about Keselowski’s remarkable fuel mileage on the 1.5-mile track. “Maybe they saved really hard under cautions and everything.”

Keselowski pitted for the final time during the fifth caution period, which began on lap 127. He faked coming down pit road at the beginning of the sixth yellow flag, sending the majority of the lead-lap cars into the pits. Many believed Keselowski’s Dodge would run out of fuel before the checkered flag, handing the victory to second place Denny Hamlin, but the thought never entered Keselowski’s mind. That’s because first-year crew chief Jeremy Bullins told Keselowski his car had enough fuel to make it to the end and the Michigan native trusted him.

“We gambled and I think it was a smart gamble,” said Keselowski, who declined to detail how he completed about eight laps over the normal distance for a tank of fuel. “The Dodge camp has been known for having a bit of a fuel mileage advantage over the last season and a half. I think there are other areas where we’re slightly behind, being quite honest, and so when you have the opportunity to maximize your advantage, that’s what you’ve got to do. I would point out that the Chevy has advantages in other areas that we don’t and so does the Ford in other areas and so does the Toyota in other areas. They’re all close, but just a little bit different.”

Bullins said once the fake to come onto pit road was made, they had no choice but to gamble.

“I felt like at that point in the race, if we got a caution (in) another 20-30 laps the whole field would have come and got their last set of tires,” Bullins said. “We got tires one time, some guys didn’t and some guys got two tires. We were able to make our way back to the front. We felt like track position was key. We felt like if the race went green, we were close enough that it was worth the gamble and if a caution came out, we were going to pit anyway so it didn’t really matter at that point.”

Exhibiting his celebratory mood when he sat down for his post-race interview in the infield media center, Keselowski picked up his crew chief’s placard and signed it. When asked why he did it, the mischievous Keselowski said with a smile, “You only get one first win. It’s like something else, there’s only one first time, so enjoy it.”

“It’s been since Homestead of last year (since we won in the Nationwide Series), so it feels really good to finally get that monkey off our back,” Keselowski continued. “I feel like we’ve had a couple races this year where we were close, maybe deserving, but the racing gods said no. So it’s good that they smiled on us today and we were able to execute. Everybody did their job and everything went together well.”

Keselowski averaged 123.414 mph in the race that was slowed by seven yellow flags for 38 laps and had 12 lead changes among seven drivers. Point leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was sidelined for 21 laps for repairs when his Ford’s U-joint between the driveshaft and the transmission broke. He finished 26th. That allowed Elliott Sadler, who finished fifth, to close within 13 points of the standings leader.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 27 2012
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