Brad Keselowski won his third race of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night. Although the race was largely a fuel mileage derby – Keselowski last pitted on lap 208 in the 267-lap Quaker State 400 – he could coast to the finish although Kasey Kahne nearly caught him after a furious late-race charge.
To boot, the win came in a backup car – Keselowski said this car was his from last year's fall race at Martinsville – after a first lap practice crash earlier in the weekend.
“What a weekend, man,” he said. “We hit the wall on lap one of practice. This is my Martinsville car from the Chase. It ain't the newest car but it sure runs. This car went out for the next practice, and that hard work got us the win. This team works hard and gets the result.”
The win essentially assures Keselowski a spot in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup, regardless of whether he ends the 26-race regular season in the top 10 of the standings or falls out and becomes a top wild card driver, as he was in 2011. Keselowski is the first to three wins in 2012.
“Three wins feels pretty good,” he admitted. “That's as close as you can come (to locking in). We want to climb up the ladder, not worry about the wild card.”
Kahne – driving the race sponsor car and leader of the Hendrick Motorsports quartet on the evening – came from the depths of the top-10 to second in the waning stages, largely passing cars as if they were standing still.
“We had a really good car, passed a ton of cars, and came up just short,” Kahne said. “My pit crew is really, really good but we had two mistakes and couldn't get enough track position.”
After Kahne, Denny Hamlin was third ahead of Kahne's three Hendrick teammates, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and polesitter Jimmie Johnson. Carl Edwards, who was running fourth in the dying stages, needed a pit stop with four laps to go and fell to 20th.
“I'm definitely frustrated,” Edwards said. “We had UPS here. I really wanted to beat Denny considering delivery implications (FedEx). (Crew chief) Bob (Osborne) called me onto pit road on the last yellow, and I was so far across the cone, I couldn't hit the pit. We were put in a box. I hoped for a caution, and there wasn't one. We need to get going. I know we can do this. We have to stick together as a team. We have bad luck and communication. We can divide or we can come together. We just need to go keep going and get back in victory lane.”
Points leader Matt Kenseth finished seventh and maintains the gap by 11 points over Earnhardt, who along with Johnson moved ahead of Greg Biffle in points. Early engine issues dropped Tony Stewart to 32nd in the race, and now ninth in points.
Current wild card leaders are four drivers all on one win apiece: Kyle Busch in 12th and Kahne, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano tied for 14th, with the latter three 74 points back of the top 10.
The series heads to Daytona Beach next Saturday night for the third restrictor plate race of 2012 and fifth in TNT's summer stretch of six races.
Results - 267 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge 2h45m02.000s
2. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 4.399s
3. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 5.511s
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 6.099s
5. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 6.359s
6. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 6.995s
7. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 7.376s
8. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 8.470s
9. AJ Allmendinger Penske Dodge + 10.585s
10. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 10.647s
11. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 12.354s
12. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 13.343s
13. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 14.067s
14. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 17.347s
15. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 21.280s
16. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 22.368s
17. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 25.560s
18. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 25.834s
19. Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet + 28.533s
20. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap
21. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap
22. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap
23. David Reutimann Baldwin Chevrolet + 1 lap
24. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap
25. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 1 lap
26. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 1 lap
27. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 2 laps
28. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 2 laps
29. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 4 laps
30. Michael Waltrip Waltrip Toyota + 5 laps
31. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford + 5 laps
32. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 36 laps
Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet 209 laps
Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 208 laps
Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 144 laps
David Stremme Inception Toyota 71 laps
Josh Wise Front Row Ford 60 laps
Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 58 laps
Scott Speed Leavine Ford 55 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 52 laps
Stephen Leicht Circle Sport Chevrolet 47 laps
Mike Bliss Humphrey Smith Toyota 18 laps
Scott Riggs R3 Chevrolet 12 laps