Brad Keselowski took his recent impressive streak a step further by claiming his third victory of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season on Saturday night at Bristol.
The 27-year-old was a top-five contender all night long and led the race at seven different times, initially thanks to staying out while the leaders pitted under the first caution. He would remain a threat from then on but never looked quite as dominant as both Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth did, the Hendrick driver leading the most laps while his Roush rival was up front for 110 of the 550 laps scheduled.
However, Keselowski really surged when the green waved for the last time after a quick four-tire stop placed him on the front row for the final restart. He quickly disposed of Michael Waltrip Racing's Martin Truex Jr., who had gambled on a two-tire stop, and as the battle for second got tighter behind him, Keselowski was able to pull away to take his first Cup win at Bristol – a result he found very meaningful.
"The night race at Bristol! This is the race that Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt won, it's the race of champions. I can't believe it," said a stunned Keselowski. "There are races that pay more. There are races that might have a little more prestige, but this is the coolest damn one of them all. We won it!"
Less than four weeks ago it was uncertain whether the Penske racer could complete the distance at Pocono following a testing crash at Road Atlanta, but since then Keselowski has been either first, second or third in every race, and has the best Cup finishing record for that period.
He is also now within reach of securing a Chase spot through being in the top 10 in the points, as he has jumped to 11th in the standings, only 21 points behind two-time champion Stewart, whose chances of making the play-off continue to dwindle every week. Keselowski also continues to be the leading wildcard entry to the Chase and has all but clinched a place in the play-off.
Behind Keselowski, Truex was able to hold off a charging Gordon as his tire gamble paid off. The four-time Cup champion was probably the fastest during the night but better pit stops from rivals seemed to hamper his chances of claiming his third win of the season.
"It felt like we had the car to beat; but you know what, we just didn't get the position that we needed to on that last pit stop," said Gordon. "Our pit crew was awesome. Pit road is an interesting place here. We fought hard. That was just a great battle; a lot of fun racing, but just didn't quite have it there at the end."
Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson also led laps and was a top-five contender, beating Earnhardt Ganassi's impressive Jamie McMurray to fifth in the end, ahead of Kenseth. Both Johnson and Kenseth secured Chase spots with their finishes, as did Kenseth's teammate Edwards with his ninth place at the flag.
Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin recovered from a spin to finish seventh, also moving up one spot in the points while provisionally hanging on to the final wild card entry into the Chase only two weeks before the cutoff. Polesitter Ryan Newman was eighth while his Stewart Haas teammate Stewart had a lackluster night, finishing three laps down in 28th.
Australian Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top 10 for Richard Petty Motorsports in yet another good run at the half-mile concrete oval.
Points leader Kyle Busch finished 14th, recovering from contact after hitting the wall 85 laps from the end while fighting for position with Truex. His brother Kurt, also a Bristol specialist, was 17th after two pit road penalties hampered his efforts.
Results - 500 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge 2h45m16.000s
2. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 0.951s
3. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 1.014s
4. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 2.382s
5. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 2.822s
6. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 2.931s
7. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 7.773s
8. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 8.651s
9. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 8.822s
10. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 9.049s
11. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota + 9.235s
12. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 9.795s
13. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 10.305s
14. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 12.208s
15. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 13.410s
16. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 13.958s
17. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 15.568s
18. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 15.593s
19. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 16.597s
20. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 16.789s
21. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota + 1 lap
22. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap
23. Casey Mears Germain Toyota + 1 lap
24. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 2 laps
25. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet + 2 laps
26. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet + 2 laps
27. David Starr Leavine Ford + 3 laps
28. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 3 laps
29. Mike Bliss Phoenix Chevrolet + 3 laps
30. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 4 laps
31. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 4 laps
32. David Stremme Inception Chevrolet + 6 laps
33. Terry Labonte FAS Lane Ford + 6 laps
Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota 471 laps
Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 457 laps
David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota 430 laps*
Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford 371 laps*
Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet 363 laps
Michael McDowell HP Toyota 49 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 42 laps
Mike Skinner Germain Toyota 28 laps
Scott Speed Whitney Ford 28 laps
Robby Gordon Gordon Dodge 10 laps
* Running again at finish