Keselowski conquers Bristol again
BRISTOL, Tenn. – How dare those pesky detractors declare Brad Keselowski’s first Bristol Motor Speedway victory a fluke!
Actually, it wasn’t such a stir. Back in August 2011, Keselowski happened into an advantageous pit location, and some of those he outran complained about it. It was enough, though, to bring Keselowski’s already hot blood to a boil. Athletes tend to exaggerate when it suits their motivational purposes.
Keselowski placed a priority on proving his first Bristol Motor Speedway victory hadn’t been a fluke, and nothing quiets detractors like two victories in a row. All of a sudden, the master of Bristol isn’t Kyle Busch, winner of four of the .533-mile oval’s last seven races.
It’s Keselowski, winner of two straight.
“I got on Twitter and was kind of ticked off at some people who said I won because of the timing line,” Keselowski said. “I knew I was fast enough to win the race last fall with or without timing lines.”
Keselowski’s victory at the bullring in 2011 was accomplished amid claims that the pit-road slot provided Keselowski with an edge in track position. NASCAR considered the situation serious enough that its officials changed the number and location of transponders designed to monitor pit road. The changes supposedly solved the problem.
But no one really ever called it a fluke, and there was certainly no such claim after Keselowski won again on Sunday, outdueling Matt Kenseth for most of the final 100 laps.
Four races into the Sprint Cup season, each manufacturer has visited victory lane. Kenseth won the Daytona 500 in a Ford. Denny Hamlin won Phoenix in a Toyota. Tony Stewart drove a Chevy into victory lane at Las Vegas, and Keselowski gave Dodge a victory.
The key at the end was tires, but it wasn’t that having new ones was important. When the final caution period ended with 17 laps remaining, four drivers opted not to pit. All four – Keselowski, Kenseth, third-place Martin Truex Jr. and fifth-place Brian Vickers – finished in the top five, the lone exception being fourth-place Clint Bowyer.
Kenseth said he had noticed while watching Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, won by Elliott Sadler, that fresh tires weren’t much of an advantage.
“It was obvious,” Kenseth said. “New tires didn’t make you much faster.”
Positions 3-5 at the end were occupied by Toyotas representing Michael Waltrip Racing. Vickers managed to finish fifth in his first Sprint Cup race of the season. He drove the Toyota Mark Martin had driven in the season’s first three races.
A crash on the 24th lap had a profound effect on the conduct of the Food City 500. Kasey Kahne’s Chevy brushed Regan Smith’s Chevy on the front straight. Keselowski’s Dodge narrowly avoided major involvement in the resulting melee, which eliminated from contention the winner of four of the four previous races at Bristol, Kyle Busch, as well as Marcos Ambrose, Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards.
“This is the worst way I could start a season,” said Kahne, who ranks 32nd in points after four races. “I’ve had the fastest car every single week, and something happens.”
Winning for the fifth time at NASCAR’s premier level, Keselowski led a career-high 232 of the 500 laps. Vickers led 125 and Kenseth 45. The driver who wound up finishing 17th, Keselowski’s Penske Racing teammate A.J. Allmendinger, led 54 of the first 100.
Keselowski had led 89 laps in his first Bristol victory.
“We need to keep winning races to lock ourselves into the Chase,” he said in spite of the fact that 22 races remain in the regular season. “I’d rather just go into the Chase in the top spot. If we run like we have the last few weeks, we’ve got as good a shot as anybody else.”
“He was just better than me,” Kenseth said. “He could keep his tires under him a little better and got off the corners that much better. I couldn’t get by him. That was the difference.”
Pole winner Greg Biffle finished a disappointing 13th, though he lead the race’s first 41 laps. A late spin left to a 14th-place finish for Las Vegas victor Tony Stewart, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s pit-road speeding penalty cost him a finish in the top five. He would up 15th.
Biffle maintained the Sprint Cup point lead. Kevin Harvick is nine back, followed by Kenseth (-12), Truex (-18), Hamlin (-20) and Earnhardt (-20).
“It wasn’t bad,” Biffle said. “The car was back and forth, but there at the end, I don’t know what happened. The car just got way too tight. It was all I could do to finish 13th.”
Monte Dutton; 704-869-1841; twitter.com/montedutton