Brad Keselowski was the class of the field Saturday night leading a race high 199 of 267 laps in route to victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway. His only issue came during a final round of stops when he was forced to restart in sixth. As he did all night though Keselowski was able to charge forward and retake the lead from Kyle Busch with 19 laps to go and never looked back.
With the win Keselowski became the first driver to score two wins at Kentucky, his first coming in 2012. It also marked the first time in his six pole starts that he won from the first starting spot.
“Our car was awesome,” Keselowski said in victory lane. “The team did a great job and I’m just really thankful to have a car this good. I don’t know how else to put it.”
Kyle Busch took the lead late thanks to a lucky break. Just prior to the final caution Busch along with Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. came in for green flag stops. On the track Aric Almirola crashed bringing out the caution. Keselowski was forced in to pit and restarted sixth. He was in second three laps after the restart and was soon reeling in Busch. On lap 248 Keselowski caught Busch, made a clean pass and went onto his 12th career win.
“I knew it was gonna be really, really tough,” Keselowski said. “I figured we’d get to him, but I didn’t really think I’d be able to pass him. I caught a little break in lap traffic and the car was just that good. I was able to take advantage of it and get the lead. That was awesome.”
Newman held on for third, Matt Kenseth overcame a flat tire and came from a lap down to finish fourth. Earnhardt Jr. was fifth.
Keselowski led from the green followed by his teammate Logano. Behind the front two the battles for positions were furious. By lap 16 Keselowski was starting to lap the rear of the field.
The first caution came out on lap 28 just two laps prior to a scheduled competition caution when Denny Hamlin hit the turn 4 wall hard. The field came in for the first stops of the night. The top ten took two tires and Keselowski led off pit road.
The green came out on lap 36 and Keselowski led, followed by Harvick and Logano. By lap 56, Keselowski’s lead over Harvick was nearly 3.5 seconds, 10 laps later it was four seconds. The second caution came out on lap 77 when Kyle Larson smacked the wall exiting turn 2 ending his night. The leaders came in for stops, all taking four tires. Logano won the race off pit road and led to the green on lap 85 followed by Keselowski. Harvick had issues on pit road with a left rear tire, he restarted 16th.
Keselowski was able to get past Logano on lap 87 and set sail. On lap 115, Kyle Busch got by Logano and took over second;. Caution three came out on lap 125 for debris. The leaders came in for stops on lap 127. Logano won off pit road followed by Newman, Kyle Busch, Keselowski and Earnhardt Jr. Harvick had staged an impressive come back and restarted sixth.
The restart came on lap 131; Logano shot to the lead followed closely by Keselowski. Keselowski retook the lead on lap 148 Kyle Busch remained third. On lap 153, the fourth caution came out when Jamie McMurray in seventh was hit by Aric Almirola who went up into Kahne; all three were slowing for the spinning car of Alex Bowman exiting turn 2. The leaders came in for stops all getting two tires; Logano won off pit road, Keselowski was second, Kyle Busch third, Newman fourth and Harvick fifth.
The restart came on lap 160 with Logano moving to the lead for two laps until Keselowski came by on the outside to retake the point. The fifth caution came out on lap 176 when David Stremme spun entering turn 2. Keselowski and Logano stayed out, several outside the top eight led by Harvick came in for two tires; Harvick restarted 10th. The green came out on lap 181 with Logano taking the lead ahead of Keselowski. Behind them Busch and Newman fought for third. Keselowski retook the lead on lap 184 as Newman took third behind. Earnhardt Jr. slid into fifth behind Busch.
Just as Newman, Busch and Earnhardt came in for green flag stops on lap 215, Almirola lost a right front tire entering turn three and crashed bringing out the sixth caution. By virtue of their lucky pit stops, Busch took the lead followed by Newman and Earnhardt under the caution. Those who had yet to pit including Keselowski and Logano came in for stops.
Paul Menard took only two tires and led off pit road followed by Matt Kenseth then Keselowski, Jeff Gordon and Harvick with four tires. Menard started fourth behind Earnhardt; Kenseth was fifth, Keselowski was sixth. Busch led to the green on lap 219 closely pursued by Newman. Within a lap Keselowski was third. Logano, who restarted 10th, had moved up to fourth. On lap 228, Keselowski moved to second and started to reel in Busch.
With 25 laps to go Logano began to report engine issues and started to fall back. Up front with 19 to go, Keselowski caught and passed Busch and on to victory.
Jeff Gordon’s crew had an issue on pit road that put him deep in the field; he rallied back to finish sixth. Kevin Harvick looked strong early, faded in the second half but managed to hold on for seventh, Kasey Kahne was eighth, Joey Logano who was strong early running second for most of the race suffered an engine problem in the closing laps and managed to bring it home ninth, Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top ten.
Keselowski joins Earnhardt, Carl Edwards, Logano and Harvick as a two-time winner on the season.
“I just can’t wait to get deeper in the season and the post-season,” Keselowski said. “I think this is where we need to be to have a shot at another championship, so I’m just real proud of everyone right now.”
Gordon leads the points followed by Johnson, Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski, and Kenseth in fifth. Edwards, Logano, Newman, Harvick and Kyle Busch complete the top ten.
The series heads to Daytona International Speedway for next Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400.