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“Bad Brad” Keselowski celebrated his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 win at Kentucky Speedway Saturday by “Tebowing” in victory lane. The driver of Roger Penske’s No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge effected the kneel-down gesture made famous by famed NFL quarterback Tim Tebow after sealing a weekend of diversity with a 4.399-second victory over second-place Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet owned by Hendrick Motorsports.
Keselowski was driving a backup car after crashing in Friday’s first practice and had a broken steering wheel Saturday moments before the 43 Sprint cars rolled off pit lane to form up for the start of the 267-lap, 400-mile event.
“We fought through adversity all weekend long in 100 degree temperatures,” Keselowski said in Victory Lane. “It started off, for those that didn’t see practice, when we hit the wall on lap 1 of practice and brought out a back-up car.”
A slower car driven by Juan Paul Montoya came up into Keselowski in practice, forcing the Miller Lite team to sideline their primary car for the weekend.
“This ain’t the newest car we got but it sure does run. (We) got this car out, got it ready on the racetrack to practice and that hard work was the weekend for us.”
“It was probably the toughest weekend as a team that we’ve ever had up to this point,” winning crew chief Paul Wolfe said. “Not only did we have obviously really high temperatures, but having trouble on the first lap of the racetrack always sets you back. One thing about all the guys on the Miller Lite team is it always seems like we’re able to find another level to work when it comes to adversity. I don’t know whether (Keselowski) thrives off of that or what, but it seems like when some people might think we’re down and out, we’re able to find a whole other level to compete and find ourselves in victory lane.”
Prior to the race Keselowski was the last driver off pit road and onto the track after the Miller Lite crew took a minute to replace a broken steering wheel. Keselowski was not penalized and was permitted to start 8th as scheduled.
“I’ve never seen that happen before,” he said. (The wheel) “had a lot of miles on it. I put it on before the race started, gave it a tug, and it broke in my hands. If that would happen on the racetrack today we’d have been obviously not winning the race and potentially worse. So I’m glad I back-checked it before the race started and glad we were able to get a new one on the car.”
The 43-car starting field was determined from the results of two-lap qualifying runs on Friday. Jimmie Johnson, driving the No. 48 Lowe’s Dover White Chevrolet, earned the right to start from the pole after setting a track qualifying record with a lap of 181.818 mph. Kyle Busch, who won last year’s inaugural Quaker State 400 started on the outside of the front row in the No. 18 M&Ms Red-White-Blue Toyota.
Following a third straight day of triple-degree temperatures weather conditions at the start of the race remained hot. When the green flag fell at 7:46 p.m., the air temperature had dropped to 88 degrees, with an on-track temperature of 115.
Busch got a great start, going inside through turns 1 and 2 to pass Johnson for the lead. The first lead change of the race came on lap 34 when Keselowski, who had started eighth, moved through the pack and went inside in turn 4 to pass Busch. Keselowski relinquished the lead to Busch during a pit stop on lap 44. On the next lap, Travis Kvapil, who was pitting, was credited with leading a lap after crossing the start-finish line ahead of Busch, who regained the lead on lap 46.
After 50 laps, Kyle Busch owned a 0.669 second lead over Keselowski, followed by Johnson in third, Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota in fourth and Clint Bowyer in the No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota in fifth. Busch still held a .469-second lead over Keselowski after 75 laps with the rest of the top five remaining the same.
The fifth lead change of the night came on Lap 97 when Busch pitted, turning the lead over to Johnson. The sixth lead change quickly followed as Johnson pitted two laps later, giving the lead back to Busch. After the completion of 100 laps (of 267) the top five remained in the same order as they had on laps 50 and 75.
Busch’s pit reported that the No. 18 car had moved to the tight side after making the recent stop. Busch made contact with the wall during the back stretch on Lap 118 but was able to maintain his lead.
The seventh lead change of the night came on Lap 130 when Hamlin passed Busch on the backstretch. Hamlin owned a 1.546-second lead over Johnson at the halfway point of the race (134 of 267 laps. Busch was third, Keselkowski fourth and Bowyer fifth. 35 cars were on the track with 21 on the lead lap.
The eighth lead change of the night came on Lap 150 when the majority of the field pitted, turning the lead over to Johnson (whose pit stall was over the start/finish line). The ninth lead change came on Lap 151 when Casey Mears, who stayed out instead of pitting, took over the lead. Mears pitted two laps later, turning the lead back over to Hamlin for the 10th lead change of the night.
The 11th lead change of the night came on Lap 189 when Johnson went inside on the front stretch to pass Hamlin. At about the same time Kyle Busch’s pit reported that they feared that the No. 18 had a broken rear shock from the contact Busch made with the wall on Lap 118.
Johnson enjoyed a 1.796-second lead over Hamlin after 200 laps, followed by Keselowski in third, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in fourth in the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet and Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet in fifth. 34 cars were on the track with 17 on the lead lap.
Green flag pit stops began a lap later, once again shuffling the lineup as pitted cars cycled through. The 12th lead change of the night came on Lap 204 when Johnson pitted, turning the lead over to Hamlin. Keselowski Passed Hamlin for the lead in turn 4 on lap 206. Two laps later Kyle Busch charged back to the lead by passing Keselowski on the inside in turn three. Johnson inherited the lead once again when Busch pitted on lap 210.
Moments after the last cars made their green flag stops, the race went to a caution on Lap 211 when Ryan Newman spun and hit the wall in between turns 1 and 2. Regan Smith got caught up in it, bumping the wall while trying to brake and avoid Newman. The caution allowed the field to make a final stop to top off fuel, allowing them to finish the race without another stop. The 16th and final lead change came during these stops when Keselowski beat the field off pit road.
Wolfe said he was more concerned about a late crash extending the length of the race than he was running out of fuel before the scheduled checkered flag.
“I feel like for the most part we’ve been as good or better than most teams when it comes to fuel mileage,” Wolfe said. “That’s big in a lot of these races. Any advantage you can have whether it’s fuel mileage power, you take anything you can get, because you never know when you’re going to need it. We had plenty of fuel to make the scheduled distance.”
Kahne charges toward the front
Meanwhile, Kahne, who had started 19th and had fallen to 34th after an unscheduled stop on lap 53 because of loose lug nuts, charged back through the field to 13th place by lap 210. Kahne continued to work his way through the top 10, picking them off one by one to climb into fifth place with 10 laps to go. After Lap 257, Keselowski owned a 2.856-second lead over Hamlin, followed by No. 99 Carl Edwards in third and Earnhardt in fourth.
Kahne moved up to third after 260 laps, passing both Edwards and Earnhardt. Kahne passed Hamlin down low coming out of turn 4 to move into second place with three laps to go.
“I just hoped he’d run out of gas,” Kahne said of Keselowski. “There was no way I was catching him. We had enough gas to run as hard as I could all the way to the finish, and I was hoping his car would shut off, off of two or something.”
Keselowski streaked across the finish line ahead of Kahne. Hamlin finished third, followed by Kahne’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates Earnhardt fourth, Gordon fifth, and Johnson sixth; Matt Kenseth in the No.17 Fifth/Third Bank Ford, seventh; Martin Truex, Jr., in the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota, eighth; A.J. Allmendinger in the No. 22 Shell Penzoil Dodge, ninth; and Kyle Busch rounded out the top 10.
“It would have been great to win in the Quaker State car,” Kahne said. “We felt like our teammates were pretty good. So we looked at some of the things they were doing and it’s nice to have as good of teammates as we had. So we were able to put a nice package in the car and it worked really well. My car went fast and I think the longer the run went, the better we seemed to get.”
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“We had a good run,” Hamlin said. “Our car was pretty good through the middle stages of the race. We lost the lead with 70 to go or so. It seemed we had to go into fuel save mode and our car started going back towards the end. We came in and once we did that pit stop, we made a charge to the front. But we knew we had to save fuel the entire last run. There was nothing I could do, As much as I wanted to keep the 2 honest and run him hard, I had to run a certain pace, and that’s all I was allowed to do if we were going to make it to the end.”
Earnhardt, who finished fourth, said his car got better as the night went along. “We made some really good adjustments too. We keep running well, this is the best season I’ve ever had. The car was just so loose there on that last run. We just didn’t have enough to get up there and get to the leaders. I give the whole team credit. Everyone who has a fingerprint on that car gets all the credit.”
“Those last 100 laps were challenging,” Gordon said. “We started the night off really tight. We kept freeing it up, freeing it up and what do you know at the end, we were too loose. It looked like a lot of guys were struggling with that. We held on to a great top five finish and we’re happy with that.”
“To see how well the Hendrick cars are running right now, it’s great to be part of that,” Kahne said. “All of the guys should be really happy because they’ve prepared us some pretty nice cars and our engines run great. It’s nice to be part of that organization.”
The win for Keselowski was his third NASCAR Sprint Cup victory of the season, previously winning at Bristol on March 11th and Talladega on May 7th. It was his seventh career Sprint Cup Series win.