Keselowski win keeps Johnson behind in points at Charlotte
The Scoop: After last week's kangaroo court at Kansas, the general feeling about Charlotte Motor Speedway's Bank of America 500 Saturday night was that the caution flag would not wave nearly as often. That was certainly the case, as only four cautions (one for a crash, one for an engine, and two for miniscule debris during long green flag runs) slowed the 334-lap race, the last of which allowing Brad Keselowski to chase down Kasey Kahne and win his first race in over a year. Keselowski is the first non-Chase driver to win a Chase since Kahne took home his only victory for his short stay Red Bull Racing at Phoenix in 2011. While Kahne has won twice this year, he is more infamous for the close races he has lost in the closing laps, particularly against current points leader Matt Kenseth. Hendrick Motorsports dominated the race, with Kahne getting the bonus point for leading the most laps - 138 to teammate Jimmie Johnson's 130. Johnson had the race in the bag, until NASCAR threw a debris caution with 27 laps to go, erasing his big lead. The ensuing pit stops put Kahne and teammate Jeff Gordon, who led 26 laps from the pole, out front, because they took two tires. Johnson started outside Kenseth on row two, each of the points leaders being the first to take four tires. When the green dropped on lap 312, Kahne pulled away, Gordon fell back, Johnson bobbled on the inside and became part of a three-wide sandwich that allowed Keselowski by to lasso in Kahne. The 2 and the 5 waged war for several laps, nearly dooring each other and nearly playing nose vs. quarter panel tag. The quarters were close, but Keselowski prevailed, sending him to his 10th career win, first in Cup at Charlotte, and 4th at a 1.5-mile track. After a year full of bad luck, Keselowski's chances Saturday took a big hit when he left the pits early in the race with the jack still under the left side of his car. He re-pitted to both leave the jack and serve the penalty, pulled away quickly, and then backed back up again at the urging of crew chief Paul Wolfe, so the team could make sure the jack-post was still intact. But Keselowski hung in the rest of the race, came to life near the end, and grabbed the positions he needed on that restart with 22 to go. Kahne ended 2nd, Kenseth 3rd, and Johnson rebounded from 7th early in the last run (after his bobble) to a disappointing 4th, losing another point to leader in points Kenseth. Kyle Busch was fast all night, but never fastest and placed 5th - again losing precious points to the 20 and 48. Kevin Harvick complained of miserable handling all night, but passed a few cars on the final run to place 6th, keeping his hat in the championship ring. Jeff Gordon was top 5 most of the night, but sunk to 7th at race's end, making his quest for Cup number five tougher with five races to go. Ryan Newman was 8th, Denny Hamlin 9th (only his 5th top of 2013 and first since Pocono - in June), and Carl Edwards was a quiet 10th. No Chaser had catastrophes, but several had disappointing nights. Clint Bowyer, last year's winner of this race, finished an invisible 11th - he has not won since this 2012 race. Kurt Busch was 14th in the No. 78 in which he debuted one year ago at Charlotte. Dale Earnhardt Jr. led some laps early, but got lapped just before the final caution and was 15th. Greg Biffle qualified high, but had nothing in the race and was 16th. Joey Logano had a poor first half of the Coca-Cola 600 in May, but rebounded to finish very well. Saturday saw him as much as two laps down, but on the lead lap and in 18th at the finish. Long green flag runs hurt plenty of teams, but Danica Patrick had a good showing and actually gained spots near the end of the race to finish 20th. Travis Kvapil raced just days after a domestic violence arrest over and finished 35th for BK Racing.
RaceTweet: Keselowski breaks drought and bathes in Miller Lite. Kahne 2nd again. Johnson loses race, ground to Kenseth. Thanks a lot @JacquesDebris.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Kasey Kahne - He led the most laps and raced as aggressively as he ever has to win. His spotter actually said to him, "F--- it, we have nothing to lose." Kahne raced like it and almost took the trophy in this doomed Chase for the No. 5 team.
North Korean Missile Dud: Joey Logano - He has been sneaky fast at many tracks this year, but Logano's team is losing momentum, after back-to-back top 5's at Dover and Kansas. The team's Chase hopes were practically done after the first two races, but finishes like Saturday's 18th seal the deal.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Brad Keselowski - Last season saw the No. 2 team rarely have bad luck, but it also recovered when it did. This season has seen almost everything go wrong for the team. But the clingy jack did not keep Keselowski from winning.
Wheel of Misfortune: Mark Martin - His motor went south for the winter on lap 84, after losing a cylinder even earlier. Martin may be about ready to do the same after borderline horrendous finishes in his stint as Tony Stewart's sub in the No. 14.When a fan on Twitter (apparently not of Martin's) suggested he retire, either Martin or his ghost-Tweeting wife Arlene, told them, "You should screw yourself." That's as salty as Martin gets there. Most of Martin's 2013 finishes have been misfortune-heavy and this was no exception. Where 2014 takes a once-dominant driver we don't know, but Martin fans must have a tough time watching NASCAR right now.
Ghost Driver: Martin Truex Jr. - He was fast early, but then the No. 56 NAPA Toyota faded into obscurity, just as the No. 56 team might. With both Truex Jr. and crew chief Chad Johnston, not to mention possibly other key members of the team, looking for job insurance other places for 2014, their chances of running up front seem grim. All sorts of rumors are circling the garage and different websites about not only the 56 team, but Michael Waltrip Racing as a whole. My, have the chickens from Richmond really come to roost for last year's Cinderella race team.
Never Fear, Underdog Is Here: Kyle Larson ran as high as 11th in his Sprint Cup debut, after starting 21st. He slowly worked his way through the field and never seemed to lose his cool on the radio, when he got lapped. He gave balanced, calm feedback and seemed poised to run ahead of a lot bigger teams and experienced drivers, when his Hendrick engine gave way on lap 247 (after running several laps down on power). Larson placed 37th, but ran considerably better than the other debut drivers in the race (Brian Scott in RCR No. 33 and Blake Koch on LFR No. 95). Sure, plenty of hype will surround Larson, but he seems ready to handle the pressure of running the No. 42 car next season.
Nationwide Series RaceTweet: NNS regulars Dillon and Hornish Jr. lead, but can't hold off or catch Kyle at the end. At least there was some good racing.
Georgia On My Mind: This proved another tough weekend for the Georgia Gang. David Ragan never had a fighting chance Saturday, finishing six laps down in 30th. In the Nationwide Series race Friday, Reed Sorenson, who left TMG's No. 40 in favor of LFR's new No. 95 NNS team, had a night to forget. During a pit sequence, Sorenson went low under a car, clipped the grass in the tri-oval, lost control, and collected Elliott Sadler, Eric McClure, and Brian Vickers. Sorenson finished 37th and Ken Butler III start-and-parked to 39th. Georgia drivers did show well in the Winchester 400 ARCA/CRA Series race, one of the crown jewels of Super Late Model racing. 2010 race winner Chase Elliott won the pole, fell back, spun when he cut a tire, and clawed up to 2nd behind race winner and fellow part-time Camping World Truck Series rookie Erik Jones (driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports). Bubba Pollard ran well, lost track position after leaving pits with a fuel can and having to re-pit, but worked back up to 9th. Anderson Bowen, a youngster who has run some ARCA this season and has gotten injured a couple of different times, placed solidly in 11th, and T.J. Reaid ran 15th.
Next: The Sprint Cup Series (ESPN, Sun., 2 p.m.) and Camping World Truck Series (Fox Sports 1, Saturday, 4 p.m.) wage restrictor-plate war at Talla-dang-dega, in what will prove to be two exciting, crash-filled, arbitrary races. The Nationwide Series is off for the first time since May (21 weeks) and returns at Texas for likely another Cup driver smack down.