Race Capsule: Keselowski becomes first two-time Cup winner at Kentucky
Flag to Flag: Saturday's Quaker State 400 had a kind of symmetry that, for fans of the sport, isn't normally welcome. Penske Racing teammates Brad Keselowski (the pole-sitter) and Joey Logano (started 2nd) led all but 31 laps at Kentucky Speedway, with the former joining the latter in having now two wins in 2014. The two held the first two positions for most of the race, with Logano (9th) falling back in the closing laps with a cylinder down on the No. 22 Ford. Keselowski lost position late in the race, but battled back. Keselowski and Logano pitted for their final time as Aric Almirola (39th) crashed on lap 215. This meant those others that didn't pit could pit under caution and keep their track position. That gave Kyle Busch (2nd) the lead for 31 laps, but Keselowski, who began the final restart in 6th, clawed his way back to the front and scored career win 12.
The race saw six cautions and they were spaced out fairly well over the 267 laps, which helped keep the Penske cars up front. The rough, bumpy surface on the 1.5-mile track meant teams pretty much needed to change at least two tires on each caution. And tire wear came into play early, as Denny Hamlin (42nd) cut a tire and crashed on lap 30. Rookie Kyle Larson (40th) did the same on lap 78. Matt Kenseth (4th), last year's winner, also had a tire go down, fell outside the top 20, but drove back to the top 5. Besides the Hamlin and Larson yellows, plus a debris caution just before halfway on lap 127, there were three other cautions. Lap 154 saw rookie Alex Bowman (36th) get loose as he was getting lapped another time and spin. Jamie McMurray (37th) slowed down to avoid the smoky spin, but Aric Almirola (39th) could not see in the smoke and moved up the track and smacked into McMurray and a bit into Kasey Kahne (8th). Both McMurray and Almirola went to the garage and returned to the race, but Almirola, who already had right-front suspension damage, cut a tire on lap 215 and crashed again. The bumpy surface made the track tough to navigate for drivers and the aero-sensitivity of the race cars made passing tough, except on restarts. That made Keselowski's comeback to win even more difficult, but it also was tepid race for fans to watch.
The top 10 were Keselowski, Busch, Ryan Newman (1st top 5 of the year), Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Kahne, Logano, and Jimmie Johnson. Gordon stretches his points lead over teammates Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. to 24. Keselowski is 4th in points. Kenseth falls to 5th and is the highest-ranking winless driver in the standings. Tony Stewart was 11th in the race and climbed to 16th in points, just five markers behind Kahne for the final cutoff spot to make the Chase. Kurt Busch was 12th in the race and stays 26th in points, 140 ahead of David Gilliland for 31st, meaning he is still very safe to remain in the top 30 with his lone victory to make the Chase.
RaceTweet: The Penske pendulum at Kentucky swings Brad K's way. Stick to Miller cans in Victory Lane - those champagne bottles hurt!
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Brad Keselowski - Nothing could stop Keselowski Saturday. He dominated, leading 199 of 267 laps and was able to take back the top spot each time he lost it. He did have some wheel spin issues leaving his pit box, which often caused Logano to beat him from the pits. He then lost track position by that late caution as he was pitting. Nonetheless, after missing chances to win in NCWTS and NNS competition the two previous nights, Keselowski capitalized, completing the rare follow-through of having the best car, the pole, leading the most laps, and taking the win. Job well done.
North Korean Missile Dud: Denny Hamlin - After a dismal showing at Sonoma last week, the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas looked better at Kentucky. But Denny Hamlin's strange luck season continued its tune Saturday, as a blown tire sent the FedEx No. 11 into the wall and out on lap 30. That was no fault of Hamlin's own, but you can't argue his 42nd place finish was anything but a dud. The only reason it wasn't 43rd is because NASCAR had its first short field in a Sprint Cup Series race since New Hampshire in November 2001.
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: Michael Annett - This rookie has had a long year in the Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevy. Any finish on the lead lap is surpassing expectations and Annett did more than that this weekend. He ran just inside the top 20 most of the evening, settling finally for 18th. Most other teams in TBR's tier finished outside the top 25 and were multiple laps down, making Annett and the No. 7 team's performance that much more impressive. As long as Pilot Travel Centers still backs him as they have, Annett will remain in NASCAR. But Annett's chances to get better finishes in the Sprint Cup Series are more likely to come if TBR gets better, as he doesn't seem a candidate to get a ride with a better team just yet.
Wheel of Misfortune: Jamie McMurray - You're a veteran driver who is again continuing his hot streak and riding inside the top 10. A rookie multiple laps down rounds into a seemingly harmless spin nearby. You slow down and avoid him as he kicks up a cloud of smoke, but as you do, another car blinded by the wreck drives into it and drives up into you. You get spun into the spinning car. That was McMurray's night at Kentucky. It's just a racing deal, but it puts McMurray even further back in the points (21st and 33 points behind 15th) and without a win. The No. 1 team had another top 10 run foiled by foul luck.
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: Matt Kenseth - The defending winner of this race got a flat tire and had to pit out of sequence on a track where passing was difficult to say the least. Kenseth said so himself in his post-race interview, saying that the wake behind opponents' racecars makes gaining ground very difficult when he finally got withing seven or so car lengths of someone. But instead of throwing his hands up, he went to work and not only got a top 10 but worked up to 4th. Kenseth is still winless and is 5th in points and made a championship-like comeback to make what should have been a sour night sweet. Teams rally around driving performances like that.
Ghost Driver: Carl Edwards - Last week's winner at Sonoma sunk back to reality at Kentucky. The Roush Fenway Racing speedway program is still very much out of whack. Edwards, who muscled his way to a win last week, couldn't strong-arm a good finish for his ailing team. He placed 17th. Teammates Greg Biffle (14th) and especially Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (25th) also struggled. The seeds of change may have been planted at RFR, but they haven't yet sprouted.
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: Brad Keselowski - Not often does the winner get this award, but check this out. While trying to open a champagne bottle in the Victory Lane celebration, Keselowski couldn't get the bottle open and tried to tap open the cork on the base of the Quaker State 400 trophy, but that ended up shattering the bottle in his hands. He had to leave the celebration to get four stitches from the infield care center. But the party continued and extended BK's unconventional ways of living the NASCAR life.
Georgia on My Mind: The Kentucky race weekend was eventful for the Georgia gang for the wrong reasons at Kentucky. The Camping World Truck Series race Thursday awakened the reputation that followed John Wes Townley most of his career. He wrecked twice in the race, including on the first lap and still managed to finish 21st, behind race dominator Kyle Busch. Townley is 9th in points, 40 markers behind leader Johnny Sauter. Townley was supposed to run the Nationwide race, but his team withdrew. Max Gresham had a very productive 2nd start of the year for Gallagher Motorsports, using strategy to restart 3rd at one point and holding on to finish 11th. The Nationwide Series race Friday night was dominated by Cup regulars and won by Kevin Harvick. Chase Elliott ran in the top 10 most of the night, but got hasty racing Trevor Bayne just outside the top 10 in the closing laps. Elliott dove low in a turn and hit Bayne into the wall lightly. Bayne hit Elliott and voiced displeasure on his radio under caution. Elliott lost a couple of spots in the exchange and finished 12th. Elliott gained some points on teammate and points leader Regan Smith, who crashed in the race, but lost ground to new points leader Elliott Sadler, whom Elliott trails by four. Ryan Sieg got hit by Jeremy Clements midway through the race and hit the wall. He then spun the No. 51 of Clements out during caution and eventually finished two laps down in 21st. Sieg drove that entry during Clements' brief suspension last season. In the Cup race, Reed Sorenson ran decent for his small TBR team and finished 27th, two laps down. He exceeded expectations just like his teammate Annett did. David Ragan took the wave around several times, but still managed only 31st, five laps down.
NNS RaceTweet: Cup guys dominate Kentucky NNS race and Harvick comes out on top. Georgia boys' Christmas card list gets shortened.