Brad Keselowski dominates again, sweeps weekend with Cup win at Loudon

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Sprint Cup drivers saw a lot of red during Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

As in Keselowski’s appropriately red-colored Redd’s Apple Ale-sponsored Ford Fusion for Team Penske.

Although it may have caused for a few nail-biting moments in the closing laps, Keselowski still managed to make it look easy around the one-mile flat track to win Sunday’s main event, leading 138 of 305 laps in the fifth green-white-checker finish of the season. The race was originally slated to go just 301 laps.

In so doing, Keselowski doubled up for the weekend, also dominating in Saturday’s win from the pole in the Nationwide Series undercard race at NHMS. It was also the third win of the season for the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, tying him with Jimmie Johnson with most wins thus far in 2014.

“It sure feels like it,” Keselowski said when asked by TNT reporter Marty Snider afterward if this is the best Team Penske has ever been. “The Redd’s Apple Ford Fusion was hauling today. It’s a privilege to have cars like this and a team like it. We’re red-hot.”

Keselowski becomes the 13th different winner in the last 13 races at NHMS, earning his first career victory there in 10 overall starts.

“I can’t believe it, to win both races,” Keselowski said. “I thought we’ve done pretty good here the last few years but just weren’t able to close out the deal. … It was a great race, hard fought and Kyle (runner-up Kyle Busch) made me earn it there at the end. … If we keep having cars like this, the sky’s the limit. I’m just real proud of Team Penske.”

Keselowski’s triumph is the fourth straight win by a Ford driver in the last four races (two by Keselowski), the first time that’s happened since 2001.

Busch made a last-ditch effort to get to the front, but just didn’t have enough time or track left to catch Keselowski. It was Busch’s third straight runner-up finish at NHMS, including both races last year.

“It should have been anywhere from fourth to sixth, but we made a gutsy call there at the end to stay out and see if we could make it on fuel. We just barely made it, ran out at the start-finish.”

Rookie Kyle Larson had an outstanding third-place run, followed by Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Kasey Kahne finished 11th, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Carl Edwards, Austin Dillon, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Paul Menard and Jeff Burton.

Because of the GWC situation, several drivers ran out of fuel in the final laps including Jeff Gordon (finished 26th) and Kevin Harvick (finished 30th).

There are now only seven races remaining to fill out the expanded 16-driver field for the revamped format of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

On Lap 251, Matt Kenseth made what, at the time, looked like could have been the move of the race. With the event under caution due to debris, Kenseth came into the pits in seventh but left in first, taking the lead.

But Keselowski was just too strong and quickly worked his way back up to the front of the pack.

In perhaps the most controversial incident of the race, Joey Logano was running second behind teammate Brad Keselowski on Lap 211 when it appeared Logano cut down on Morgan Shepherd going into a turn.

Both cars made contact and Logano went sailing into the wall, and ultimately out of the race due to irreparable damage. Logano ultimately finished 40th, ironically one place behind Shepherd in 39th.

“The slowest car on the race track took us out, go figure,” a frustrated Logano said to TNT about Shepherd, who was at the time of the incident 15 laps behind the leaders.

“It’s not NASCAR’s fault that he slid up and was the slowest car on the track. I don’t know, if you can’t control your stuff, don’t even be out there. If you’re 10 laps down, what are you doing?”

Shepherd, at 72 years old the oldest active driver in Sprint Cup – and at 72 years, nine months and one day, reset his own mark as the oldest driver to ever start a NASCAR race – continued on in the race, having suffered damage to his car but not enough to end his day, unlike Logano.

Keselowski led 42 of the first 151 laps of the 301-lap event and had a lead at the time of around three seconds over Matt Kenseth, who was running second.

Pole-sitter Kyle Busch was third at halfway, followed by Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, early leader Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne in 10th position.

It was not a good day for Jimmie Johnson. He suffered a flat tire early in the race. After coming on pit road, his jack man made a mistake and went to the right side of the car while the rest of the crew remained on the left, following crew chief Chad Knaus’s call for just two left side tires.

The mistake cost Johnson several extra seconds than normal on pit road, going from second-place when he entered the pits to returning to the track in 42nd position and one lap down.

Then on Lap 11, Johnson suffered another tire failure, this one sending him into the wall and causing damage to his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, effectively ending his day with a 42nd-place finish.

Other notable items included:

* Logano wore a tight wrap on his left wrist, which suffered a minor sprain after wrecking during Sprint Cup practice on Friday.

* Aric Almirola crashed in practice Saturday and had to go to a backup car. He started Sunday’s race from the back of the field.

* Jeff Burton, who will segue to a full-time analyst for NASCAR on NBC next season, finished 20th in what potentially could be the final race of his Sprint Cup career. Burton has no plans for additional races in the remaining 17 events on the schedule, but that could change if the right situation presents itself.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Saturday times and notebook

New Tatuus PM-18. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s a rundown of times and notes from Saturday at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test, as all three rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires ladder had their first day of testing on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. A link to Friday’s notebook is here.

Times are below, followed by notes.

COMBINED TIMES

INDY LIGHTS (Best Session); Full Results

Jamin. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 5-Nico Jamin, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:15.7173 (Session 2)
2. 98-Colton Herta, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, 1:15.8246 (Session 4)
3. 23-Victor Franzoni, Juncos Racing, 1:15.9875 (Session 4)
4. 4-Rinus Veekay, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:16.2067 (Session 4)
5. 31-Nicolas Dapero, Juncos Racing, 1:16.2491 (Session 4)
6. 3-Pato O’Ward, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.2563 (Session 4)
7. 48-Ryan Norman, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.3285 (Session 4)
8. 27-Anthony Martin, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.5185 (Session 4)
9. 2-TJ Fischer, Team Pelfrey, 1:17.1030 (Session 4)
10. 21-Heamin Choi, Juncos Racing, 1:18.5179 (Session 4)

PRO MAZDA (Best Session); Full Results 

Askew. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 8-Oliver Askew, Cape Motorsports, 1:19.8920 (Session 2)
2. 1-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:20.0236 (Session 2)
3. 3-Robert Megennis, Juncos Racing, 1:20.1268 (Session 4)
4. 81-Kaylen Frederick, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.2252 (Session 2)
5. 79-David Malukas, BN Racing, 1:20.2456 (Session 4)
6. 91-Nikita Lastochkin, Exclusive Autosport, 1:20.7001 (Session 2)
7. 18-Calvin Ming, Pabst Racing, 1:20.7373 (Session 4)
8. 80-Kris Wright, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.9930 (Session 4)
9. 2-Sting Ray Robb, Juncos Racing, 1:21.1250 (Session 2)
10. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:21.4425 (Session 4)
11. 78-Leonard Hoogenboom, BN Racing, 1:23.0447 (Session 4)

USF2000 (Best Session); Full Results

Gutierrez. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photgraphy

1. 22-Andres Gutierrez, Pabst Racing, 1:25.5618 (Session 3)
2. 27-Callan O’Keefe, BN Racing, 1:25.6295 (Session 2)
3. 36-Darren Keane, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.6882 (Session 3)
4. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:25.8743 (Session 2)
5. 23-Lucas Kohl, Pabst Racing, 1:26.0760 (Session 2)
6. 21-Hunter McElrea, Pabst Racing, 1:26.1432 (Session 3)
7. 37-Jake Craig, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.2452 (Session 4)
8. 80-Michael D’Orlando, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.2751 (Session 2)
9. 31-Rasmus Lindh, Team BENIK, 1:26.3193 (Session 4)
10. 20-Aaron Telitz, RJB Motorsports, 1:26.4349 (Session 4)
11. 32-Jaden Conwright, Team BENIK, 1:26.4557 (Session 2)
12. 38-Max Peichel, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.5739 (Session 4)
13. 82-David Osborne, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.6824 (Session 2)
14. 25-Elliott Finlayson, BN Racing, 1:26.8219 (Session 3)
15. 33-Myles Rowe, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:27.0620 (Session 4)
16. 34-Sabre Cook, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:27.2107 (Session 4)
17. 92-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:27.7750 (Session 3)
18. 24-Zoey Edenholm, BN Racing, 1:28.6730 (Session 2)
19. 81-Jacob Loomis, Team Pelfrey, No Time
20. 93-Jayson Clunie, Exclusive Autosport, No Time

NOTES

Kohl and McElrea joined Gutierrez in Pabst’s pace. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Drivers and teams alike have raved about the pace, and the rather loud sound, of the new Tatuus PM-18 Mazda. Reports from private testing had the new car rather close to Indy Lights pace at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and rather quicker than the old car at Road America. The first tangible evidence of that occurred today as all 10 of the Pro Mazda drivers who got representative laps (second BN Racing car of Leonard Hoogenboom ran only a few laps in session four after engine issues all day) supplanted the Pro Mazda lap record at IMS – 1:22.8800 by Pato O’Ward in 2016 – easily. Oliver Askew’s best time of 1:19.8920 in the second session was nearly a full three seconds quicker on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course.
  • Of the 11 Pro Mazda drivers that ran today, only Carlos Cunha, Robert Megennis, Nikita Lastochkin, Kris Wright and Sting Ray Robb ran in the 2017 season. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see any or all five of them running full-time in 2018 for what would be each of their second seasons in the championship, as returning sophomores along with what should be a glut of strong rookies. Wright, who also races sports cars, looks poised to add a second program of some other series to a planned Pro Mazda full season.
  • Megennis is planning to test with other teams in the weeks to come, as he tests for Juncos this week after racing in USF2000 with Pelfrey the last two years. Both he and Robb missed portions of sessions today with new car issues.
  • Several Indy Lights spins and off-course excursions occurred but none produced any serious issues. Rinus Veekay and Anthony Martin were among those to test the course limits but kept on going unharmed. Veekay had a spin in session three on new tires, then promptly laid down the fastest lap of the session for Belardi later on.
  • His teammate this weekend, Nico Jamin, wound up with the fastest lap of the day in Indy Lights – although he wasn’t quickest in the cool evening session, the fourth of the day, when most of the field ran some sticker tire runs on their Cooper tires.
  • Pro Mazda title combatants Victor Franzoni (Juncos) and Anthony Martin (Andretti) made their Indy Lights test debuts. The perpetually happy Franzoni wrote on Instagram, “Awesome day!! We finished the day in P3!! The most import we learned a lot!! Tomorrow will be even better!!” Martin, meanwhile, said this: “It’s obviously a new car – bigger, faster and a lot more downforce, so I’m adapting to it and growing up to it nice and slowly. You don’t want to push yourself too early, so we’re working up to a few things. You have to do things a lot quicker and you have to use a lot more brake pressure.”
  • In USF2000, it was an excellent day at the office for Pabst Racing with Andres Gutierrez – who impressed in a pair of weekends with DE Force Racing this year – leading three of four sessions, while teammates Hunter McElrea and Lucas Kohl were also in the top-five. Pabst has been busy running cars in both USF2000 and Pro Mazda this weekend.
  • Beyond Pabst, Newman Wachs Racing also had an excellent day, mainly with sophomore Darren Keane and Californian rookie Jake Craig. Keane, who’s coached by Ozz Negri, led the fourth and final session of the day, and stands as a driver who could make a big leap forward in performance if he secures a full season in 2018.
  • Another team of note today was BN Racing, with Callan O’Keefe – Keane’s teammate when both drove for Team BENIK at this race weekend last May – second best on the day. The South African is poised to be that team’s lead driver next season. Teammates Elliott Finlayson and Zoey Edenholm are working towards seasons of their own; Finlayson having coming off a recent Super Sweep in SCCA Runoffs competition at IMS last month and Edenholm having only just graduated from karts into cars just this month.
  • While the USF2000 field was primarily rookie-dominated, two-year series veteran Aaron Telitz made a cameo return today with RJB Motorsports, and brought the ex-ArmsUp chassis its best pace yet in RJB’s hands as the Wisconsinite ran with Mirl Swan and Alex Barron’s crew support. Past RJB driver and two-time Team USA Scholarship, Michai Stephens, was also on site today.
  • Speaking of ArmsUp, its top rookie from 2017, Devin Wojcik was on hand today making the rounds as well, although wasn’t in a car. He looks to return to USF2000 for a second season in 2018.
  • USF2000 boasted some good diversity with Pabst, BN, Newman Wachs, Exclusive, Pelfrey, BENIK and RJB teams in the top 10 today, but there’s one notable omission: Cape Motorsports. The seven-time defending champions in the series are not testing in USF2000 this weekend, and has just a single Pro Mazda car on site for Oliver Askew. Granted, the team is also at Circuit of The Americas this weekend for F4 U.S. Championship action, where Kyle Kirkwood has taken that series’ championship. DE Force, which also ran in USF2000 this year, is also not here this weekend as it’s at COTA. ArmsUp isn’t here this weekend either.