Brad Keselowski became the first driver of 2016 to win back to back races winning in a thrilling finish after gambling on fuel mileage for the victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway Saturday night. It was the 21st win of his career, his series high fourth of the season and his third at Kentucky where he new leads all active drivers. Here’s how it all went down Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.
After being awarded the pole thanks to rain on Friday, Kevin Harvick led the field to the green for the first time in 2016. Brad Keselowski started second on the inside. Harvick was able to move out to a lead as Carl Edwards moved to make it three wide and fell into second. Martin Truex Jr. also got by for third, Keselowski fell into fourth. Edwards fell back on lap 2 and was soon going backwards. Truex took over second followed by Keselowski who recovered to third followed by Johnson and Matt Kenseth. Edwards was trapped on the outside and ended up in eighth.
Rickey Stenhouse Jr. hit the wall exiting turn 4 on lap 10 while in 22nd. The next lap he lost a tire entering turn 3 and hit the wall again and the first caution came on lap 11. The leaders stayed out , those who pitted came from outside the top 20.
Green came back out on lap 15; Harvick easily retook the lead on the outside. Truex followed. By lap 17 Truex was looking for the lead. Harvick was able to defend, but Truex remained close. Kenseth was third by lap 18; Keselowski was fourth, Johnson fifth.
Because of the new pavement, NASCAR called a competition caution for around lap 25, and the second caution came out on lap 26. Harvick was out first followed by Kenseth, Keselowski, Joey Logano and Edwards. All took just two tires and fuel.
Having started in the rear of the field because he crashed in practice and was forced to a backup car, Kurt Busch had pitted during the first caution so stayed out during the competition caution and led the field to the green on the restart on lap 32 .Harvick was second followed by Kenseth, Keselowski and Logano.
Johnson spun prior to the end of the lap 32 exiting turn 4, hit the wall and was forced to the garage. Caution three came out. None of the leaders pitted and the green came back out on lap 37. Kurt Busch led on the outside, Harvick fell into second, Kenseth was third.
Harvick retook the lead on lap 38, Kenseth followed and soon Kurt Busch was third. Edwards was fourth, Truex fifth. Logano, running in eighth, hit the wall on lap 44 but continued ,but with right rear damage. Edwards was third by lap 46, Turex was fourth, Ryan Blaney had moved into fifth. Kurt Busch had dropped to eighth, Logano was 17th and continuing to fall. Logano finally lost a right front tire, hit the wall hard entering turn 3 and on lap 54 caution four flew. Logano was able to limp to the garage.
All the leaders pitted.
Keselowski stayed out and led. Harvick was first off pit road followed by Kenseth, Truex, Edwards and Blaney. All took two tires and fuel.
Green came back out on lap 59. Keselowski took the lead as the field spread out three wide behind. Truex took over second, Harvick and Kenseth dueled for third. By lap 62, Truex was looking for the lead and had it just after the field started lap 63; Harvick followed. Kenseth was third, Blaney fourth, Edwards fifth. Kenseth grabbed third from Keselowski on lap 67. Blaney took fourth a lap later.
Johnson returned to the track on lap 78.
Caution 5 came out on lap 80 when Matt DiBenedetto running around 25th lost a tire and hit the wall entering turn 3. DiBenedetto was able to make it back to the garage.
The leaders all pitted. Harvick was out first followed by Truex, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott and Blaney. Blaney made contact with Cole Whitt during the stops suffering some slight right front damage.
Green came out on lap 88. Harvick was able to take the lead as Truex slipped to third behind Kyle Busch. As the field entered turn 4 behind Blaney and Elliott were racing three wide for position. Blaney spun collecting Elliott and caution six came out. Both cars had heavy damage but were able to make it to the garage. No one pitted and the restart came on lap 92. Harvick took an wide lead, as Jamie McMurray took second. Again before the field completed two laps caution seven flew. Chris Buescher ran into Brian Scott who was spun by Kyle Larson. AJ Allmendinger, Ty Dillon were also swept up and Danica Patrick suffered some damage as well. Buescher was the only car not able to continue.
The leaders stayed out and the green came out on lap 103. Harvick again jumped to the lead. McMurray was second, Truex third, Austin Dillon had worked his way into fourth, Kyle Busch was fifth. A lap later Dillon slipped, and Kyle Busch got by for the spot. Truex took second from McMurray on lap 106. Kyle Busch got third on lap 110.
Harvick’s lead was under a second by lap 125. Dillon took fourth from McMurray on lap 137; Kenseth moved to fifth two laps later.
Green flag stops began back in the field on lap 144. McMurray pitted on lap 145; Truex pitted on lap 146, Kyle Busch and Harvick followed. Harvick lost time when he overshot his pit.
Regan Smith made hard contact with the wall between turn 3 and 4 on lap 152 and caution eight flew. Smith rolled to stop at the entrance to pit road and was done for the night. Green flag stops had just cycled through. Truex led, Kyle Busch was second, Harvick was third followed by McMurray and Dillon when the green came back out on lap 158. Truex took the lead from Busch, as Harvick fell into third. Kenseth was fourth, Edwards fifth.
Clint Bowyer running a lap down in 26th, spun exiting turn 2 on lap 161 but stayed off the wall; caution 9 was displayed.
The leaders all stayed out and green was back out on lap 166. Truex again went to the lead. Harvick was able to get past Busch for second; Kenseth was soon on the inside of Busch looking for third. Kenseth got the spot at the start of lap 168. Keselowski was in fifth just behind Kyle Busch by lap 170.
Allmendinger whose car had suffered damage earlier crashed again on the frontstretch on lap 172 and caution 10 came out. This time the damage was too severe and Allmendinger was done for the night.
The leaders all stayed out. Green came out on lap 177. Truex went to the lead but slipped and Harvick grabbed the lead. Kyle Busch was third, Kenseth soon had fourth, and Kyle Larson was fifth. Keselowski was fifth by lap 183.
Landon Cassill in 19th hit the wall hard exiting turn 1 on lap 192 and caution 11 came out. The leaders all pitted. Truex was first off pit road followed by Harvick, Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Keselowski. All took two tires and fuel. NASCAR penalized Truex for passing on the left and he was sent to the tail end of the longest line and restarted 22nd. The green came out on lap 199 and Harvick had the lead until turn 4 when Harvick washed up the track and Keselowski got by for the lead. Kenseth passed Harvick for second using the apron on the frontstretch just after and soon Harvick was third.
Keselowski had a lead of just over a second by lap 210, by 214 the lead was 2.5 seconds. Truex had fought his way back and was ninth by lap 216.
Harvick had closed the gap on Kenseth and by lap 223 was looking for second. Truex was sixth. Truex went to fifth on lap 229. He was fourth by lap 236; he was looking for third a lap later. He had the spot on lap 239.
The issue for the leaders in the final 25 laps was fuel, as everyone was reported to be one to two laps short.
With 22 laps to go, the lead for Keselowski was just over 3 seconds.
Kyle Busch pitted from fifth with 17 laps to go. Harvick followed a lap later.
The lead was just over two seconds with 13 laps to go. Kenseth still held second and Truex’s march to the front stalled. Truex pitted on lap 258. On the track Kenseth closed the gap and with 10 to go the lead was just over 1.5 seconds.
Harvick in 14th was leading those who pitted, but up front Kenseth passed Keselowski with 6 laps to go. Kenseth then pitted, and Keselowski retook the lead. He soon began to slow trying to save fuel. Edwards was 7 seconds behind in second followed by Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola and Greg Biffle, all of whom were trying to save fuel.
Keselowski appeared to be out of fuel with two laps to go and slowed dramatically, reporting he was out of fuel. Coming to the white flag, Edwards almost passed for the lead but suddenly Keselowski took off and held off Edwards for the win. Newman was third, Kurt Busch was fourth, and Tony Stewart is his 600 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. Greg Biffle was sixth, McMurray was seventh followed by 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.