Keselowski Dominates, Wins At New Hampshire
By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
LOUDON, N.H. – Some teams tried stretching their fuel mileage. Others gambled on taking two tires or rolled the dice with four. No matter the strategy, nobody was going to beat Brad Keselowski on Sunday.
The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion was the class of the field in the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, leading 138 of the 305 laps on the one-mile oval.
Each time other teams used pit strategy or gambled by staying on the track, pushing Keselowski back into the pack, the determined Team Penske driver simply raced back into the lead.
“The car was hauling today,’’ Keselowski said. “We keep having cars like this, the sky’s the limit.
“This was a hard fought battle passing cars and trying to stay up front all day,’’ he added. “We had a couple of bullets to dodge and I’m nothing thinking of anything else right now other than how thankful I am to have a team and a car that is clicking this well.’’
The victory, his third of the season and 13th of his Cup career, clinched a spot for Keselowski in NASCAR’s postseason Chase for the championship with seven races left in the regular season. Also nailing down a spot in the Chase was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had a very frustrating day while finishing 10th.
Even being told he had locked in a spot in the postseason didn’t cheer up Earnhardt.
“That was the hardest I’ve ever worked for a 10th-place finish,’’ the fan favorite said. “It was real disappointing not to have the speed some of those guys had. I wish we were better.
“You could say (the Chase) was an afterthought, but we worked hard to get to where we are able to run as well as we have and win some races. It’s feels great. It’s an accomplishment. Hopefully,, we can improve, though, before we come back here (during the 10-race Chase).”
The mood was considerably happier in Victory Circle, where team owner Roger Penske said, “Momentum is always good. I hope we don’t have too much momentum now and don’t have it at the end (of the season).’’
Keselowski said having a car as good as his No. 2 Ford was on Sunday “is every driver’s dream. Every once in a while you get these cars and you are thankful and try like hell not to screw them up.’’
The winner took the lead for good on lap 270 of the race scheduled to run 301 trip around the New England track. But a crash by Justin Allgaier on lap 298 gave Keselowski one final challenge.
Kevin Harvick was lined up alongside Keselowski for the restart on lap 304, but he ran out of fuel as the green flag waved and pulled to the side, giving up the second spot to Kyle Busch. Busch, who gambled on staying out despite being very low on fuel, couldn’t stay with the leader, finishing 0.75-seconds _ about four car-lengths _ ahead of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
“It really feels like we hit our stride,’’ Keselowski said. “I’’m a little quieter than I usually am after a win because I want to give this a chance to soak in. These (kind of wins) don’t happen that often and you want to let them sink in.and enjoy them.’’
Rookie Kyle Larson finished third, Matt Kenseth fourth and Ryan Newman fifth. Rounding out the top 10 were Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Earnhardt.
Keselowski, dominating after the half way point of the race, lost his lead during a yellow flag pit stop, when he took four tires while six others took just two. In the lead on the restart was Clint Bowyer.
The caution flag came out when Joey Logano, Keselowski’s teammate, was pounded into the wall by a car driven by longtime NASCAR driver Morgan Shepherd. The 72-year-old Shepherd was 15 laps off the pace and barely carrying enough speed to stay on track under NASCAR’s rules..
Logano lashed out at Shepherd, saying NASCAR should require a driver’s test for competitors.
“I got taken out by the slowest car out there,” said Logano, who had a car fast enough to challenge for the win. “You would think there would be some courtesy to the leaders. We were in second place. He gets out of the way on the straightaway and then goes into the corner and slides right up into the lane I was in.’’
NASCAR spokesman Robin Pemberton said Shepherd was driving above the minimum speed and had been issued no warnings prior to the incident. But that was the last straw of a bad weekend for the 24-year-old Logano, whose first Cup victory came on this track in July 2009, He crashed in practice on Friday and had to go to a backup car for qualifying and the race.
“We were doing a good job after having a left rear flat in practice and we were running second with our backup car,’’ he said. “I can’t get too mad at ourselves over this. It is just dumb that it happened. I feel like that should be stuff that shouldn’t happen at this level of racing.”
It took Keselowski just 11 laps to catch and pass Bowyer for the lead after the restart, but another yellow flag stop pushed him back again. He pitted while six cars stayed on track. This time, he restarted 9th on lap 254 and it took him until lap 270 to pass Jeff Gordon for the lead.
Gordon later ran out of gas and wound up 26th.
Jimmie Johnson, a six-time Cup champion and the only other Cup drivers with three wins this season, started second but was knocked out of the race early and finished 42nd because of tire problems. Two tire problems, to be exact.
First, he had a flat tire on the left rear and had to pit on lap seven. Johnson’s crew got him back onto the track only one lap down, but moments later, the new tired blew, sending Johnson into the wall and out of the race.
“The first one I was able to drive the car all the way through turns 1 and 2,’’ he explained. “ I knew I had a flat and then got down the back and came in. The other one just blew on the straight as soon as I hit the brakes. I’m not sure what caused it. I’m sure there will be a lot of speculation and I’m sure finger pointing back to the teams or our team. But we saw some issues here especially with that particular tire the last couple of days.
“We will try to dig in and learn more, but I can promise you one thing is wasn’t low tire pressure. I’ve been out here for two days running around and haven’t had a flat.’’
Goodyear, the exclusive tired supplier for the Cup series, said in a statement, “The tires failed in a manner consistent with low inflation pressure.’’
– Mike Harris can be reached at email@example.comNo Comment