Brad Keselowski played the fuel mileage game to perfection Saturday night winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway with a perfect roll of the dice that led to the Penske Racing driver to become the series first back to back race winner of 2016.
“We knew the fuel mileage,” Keselowski said. “We went out and we set a really fast pace there on that restart and was just using fuel, and then it became obvious that you were gonna have to save fuel at the end, but I already used so much. It’s a testament to our guys to have the fuel mileage that we did to be able to get back what I burnt early in the run and get the Miller Lite Ford in Victory Lane. “
With the win Keselowski also becomes the only three time winner at Kentucky Speedway. The win comes one week after he scored his first win at Daytona International Speedway in the Coke Zero 400. The win was the 21st of his career and a series leading fourth of 2016.
“It’s number four this year,” Keselowski said. “Gosh, that’s great. Usually these repaves are kind of my Achilles heel, but to get a win here at Kentucky. I know it’s been a good track for us in the past, but this isn’t the same Kentucky, I can tell you that. These cars were tough to drive today, but a good tough. This was a hard-fought battle.”
The race was the first on new pavement at the 1.5 mile speedway which also had a reconfiguration that saw the banking in turns 3 and 4 lowered and the apron widened. For some the new pavement proved hazardous chief among them Jimmie Johnson who spun on lap 32 and was forced to the garage. Rookies Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney had issues later in the race crashing together on lap 88. In all, there were 11 cautions that tied the track record set last year.
Kevin Harvick was the class of the field for much of the race leading a race high 128 laps. His biggest challenge came from Martin Truex Jr. who led 46 laps. Truex’s chance for the win took a big hit after pit stops under the race’s final caution on lap 192. Truex as first off pit road, but Harvick immediately reported to his crew that Truex had passed him on pit road on the inside. Shortly after NASCAR penalized Truex and sent him to the tail end of the longest line; he restarted 22nd.
Truex charged through the field and was third with ten laps to go. Like others among the leaders, fuel mileage was the issue. Truex was among those who pitted in the final laps to ensure they would have enough fuel to the end including Harvick, and Kyle Busch. Matt Kenseth also pitted just after taking the lead from Keselowski with five laps to go. While they pitted Keselowski and others including Carl Edwards took a gamble.
With a near 10 second lead, Keselowski slowed and with two laps to go, he reported that he was out of fuel on the backstretch. Edwards was at his bumper when they took the white flag. Keselowski however suddenly found power and took off, holding Edwards at bay over the final lap for the win.
“I have to give credit where credit is due,” Edwards said. “He did a really good job. He played it perfectly. That was really frustrating. He baited me in there, I thought he was surely out (of fuel) and then he just won the race. He did a good job. We had great power all night, great fuel mileage with TRD (Toyota Racing Development). Man, it’s hard to swallow that one. We thought we had it no problem. He played it perfectly.”
Behind Edwards, Ryan Newman was third, Kurt Busch was fourth, and Tony Stewart is his 600th start was fifth.
On his victory lap, Keselowski’s Ford finally did run out of fuel and a tow truck pushed the car back to the pits.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had that,” Keselowski said. “I don’t want to have it ever again. I’d rather drive it in Victory Lane, but you take them any way you can get them, and I’m glad to be here and glad to be doing things that are fun on a Saturday night.”
Greg Biffle was sixth, Jamie McMurray was seventh followed by Matt Kenseth, Harvick and Truex rounding out the top 10. The full results can be found here. The NASCAR Sprint Cup series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s New Hampshire 301. Live coverage will be on the NBC Sports Network starting at 1:00 p.m. ET.