Keselowski wins, parties hard
SPARTA, Ky. (AP) – Brad Keselowski won’t soon forget an eventful Saturday night in which the same right hand that held the winner’s trophy was soon bloodied and bandaged after he broke a champagne bottle celebrating.
“We were playing around with some champagne and I told my good friend I should have stuck with beer,” Keselowski joked after receiving four stitches in the infield care center. “We had too much fun with champagne and one of the bottles broke and I cut my hand open. It’s no big deal.”
He’ll certainly remember the masterful performance that set those wild series of events in motion.
Keselowski showed early and often that his No. 2 Ford was the best car at Kentucky Speedway, dominating the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race to become the track’s first repeat winner.
The Penske Racing driver and 2012 race winner and Cup champion followed his record-breaking pole effort to lead 199 of 267 laps en route to his second victory of the season and 12th of his career.
Keselowski won from the pole for the first time, pulling away after rallying from sixth on a restart to chase down and pass leader Kyle Busch on Lap 248.
“I knew it was going to be a dogfight to get back to Kyle and then race him,” Keselowski said. “We got there with a really fast car and I hit the perfect run on him with traffic. Next thing I knew, we were there. It feels really good to get that second win.”
Busch was second, followed by Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who rallied from a 29th-place start.
A night after dominating the Nationwide Series race before finishing second to Kevin Harvick, partly because of a pit-road speeding penalty, Keselowski saved his heavy foot for the bumpy, rough track. The 2012 Cup champion went on to win by 1.014 seconds and post his ninth top-10 this season in moving one spot to fourth in the standings.
Teammate Joey Logano started second and led 37 laps before a dropped cylinder left him ninth. Busch led 31 in a race that featured 12 lead changes – all but one featuring Penske drivers.
“I felt like we were better than (Newman), but nowhere near as good as (Keselowski) or (Logano),” Busch said. “Those guys were really stout.”
Keselowski, also the winner in Las Vegas, became the first driver this season with multiple victories on 1.5-mile tracks that make up much of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The circuit won’t see another such track until late August at Atlanta, and Keselowski made a case for being a favorite with arguably the most impressive run of his career.
It followed his track-record qualifying speed of 188.791 mph and 138 laps led in the Nationwide race, which also featured a furious late run before settling for second to Harvick, who was seventh in the 400-mile race. This time he had enough laps to pass Busch.
But the tone was set from the start, as Keselowski and Logano justified their front-row qualifying sweep with a vengeance. Keselowski wasted no time with that agenda, taking charge at the green flag and leading the first 78 laps before Logano took over for five laps.
The two traded leads from there with nobody else to challenge them until Aric Almirola’s wreck brought the sixth caution on Lap 213.
That sent the leaders down pit road and scramble off produced the race’s first non-Penske leader in Busch, whose No. 18 took over on Lap 217 and led the restart with Newman second.
The Penske duo needed just seven laps to draw a bead on both drivers and Keselowski was soon second and making a furious effort trying to chase down Busch, who had a 2-second lead at one point. Once Keselowski caught him in the backstretch, he again showed his Ford’s superiority.
“Our car was awesome,” said Keselowski, who has led a series-high 346 laps in four starts at Kentucky.
Earnhardt, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart meanwhile overcame bad starting spots to finish in the top 11. Johnson was 10th after starting 25th and Stewart recovered from a 42nd-place start because of a transmission change for 11th. He had qualified 13th.
“I would have liked to have been a little better than what we were there at the end,” Stewart said, “but I think we definitely had to fight our way up through the day. .. All in all I thought we had a pretty honest day there; can’t complain about that.”
Points leader Jeff Gordon finished sixth and leads Johnson and Earnhardt by 24.