(AP Photo/Justin Hayworth)

Brad Keselowski dominates, holds off Michael McDowell to earn NNS win at Iowa

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Brad Keselowski dominated, leading 146 laps to win Saturday night’s 250-lap U.S. Cellular 250 Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.

Keselowski earned his third NNS win of the season, his third career win at Iowa and his 30th career NNS triumph. Keselowski and Sam Hornish Jr. were the class of the field, with Hornish leading 65 laps.

“I thought Sam Hornish and Michael McDowell were good all night,” Keselowski said. “They were tough to beat. We gave it all we had, but it very easily could have turned out differently. … It’s great for the team and am real happy for them and glad to be part of it.”

Keselowski hopped a plane after Saturday afternoon’s final Sprint Cup practice at Pocono Raceway and headed to Iowa. And no sooner was Saturday night’s celebration over, Keselowski flew back to compete in Sunday’s Cup race back at Pocono.

“When Brad makes this trek across country, it’s for only one thing, and that’s to win,” said Keselowski’s crew chief, Jeremy Bullins.

Hornish was second going into the final pit stop with eight laps to go after James Buescher’s spin brought out the caution flag. Hornish chose to take four tires and fuel that left him leaving pit road in seventh position.

Still, he managed to get back to fourth, falling short of his quest to win both NNS races at Iowa this season, having gone to victory lane in the first race there in May.

“It was the chance that we had to go out there and win,” Hornish said of the strategy on his final pit stop. “Maybe we would have got it with two, but I got us a little bit ahead of the track.

“It’s just one of those days. I’m real happy with the car they gave me, and maybe another two laps and we’d probably be back up to second.”

Michael McDowell finished second in the race. He took the lead from Keselowski on the final restart, but Keselowski got it back the following lap and pulled away for the win.

“We took two tires at the end, the crew got me out second,” McDowell said. “We came so close. A great run and I’m very blessed and thankful.”

Pole-sitter Trevor Bayne finished third and also won an extra $100,000 by being the final driver to win the Nationwide Insurance Dash-4-Cash contest that has taken place the last five races. Nationwide is leaving as series sponsor following this season.

Last week’s winner at Indianapolis, Ty Dillon, finished fifth. Regan Smith finished sixth, followed by Brian Scott, Chase Elliott, Dylan Kwasniewski and Elliott Sadler in 10th.

The overall points standings also tightened significantly. Elliott remains in first, but with just a two-point lead over Smith. Sadler and Dillon moved into a tie for third place, 12 points behind Elliott.

Hornish grabbed the lead on a restart on Lap 117, held on at the halfway point (Lap 125) and remained at the point until Keselowski took the lead back on Lap 164.

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IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Sage Karam

Sage Karam
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver. Ending in 20th was Sage Karam, who generated a lot of headlines despite missing a handful of races in his first full season in the big leagues.

Sage Karam, No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 9th place at Indianapolis 500; several starts in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship
  • 2015: 20th place (12 starts), Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 12 Laps Led, 14.5 Avg. Start, 15.8 Avg. Finish

Few drivers generated as much ink as Karam did during what as an ultimately race-by-race rookie season that saw him active in 12 of 16 races. It was an overall rocky campaign that featured any combination of brilliance, controversy and heartache depending on the weekend.

Karam was on the back foot to begin with anyway with limited preseason testing, following a wrist injury sustained in a crash at Barber Motorsports Park. The fact he was out of a car for Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis owed to financial reasons but also served as a wakeup call that he needed to improve off the back of several ragged races to open the season. The speed was there for the Indianapolis 500 but the result wasn’t, with a first-lap crash and the following debacle of a doubleheader weekend at Detroit a week later ultimately Karam’s nadir.

Luckily for the 20-year-old, he had Dario Franchitti as a tutor, mentor and coach, and a post-Detroit “come to Jesus” meeting might have been the biggest impetus for change. Karam then surged in the second half of the year – primarily on ovals – and worked his way into the headlines courtesy of his driving and take-no-prisoners aggressive approach, particularly with Ed Carpenter at Iowa. In a single sentence, he was worth the price of admission almost on his own while also putting himself in contention for series “black hat” status.

Karam was on track for what would have been a dream weekend at home in Pocono, leading with 20 laps to go, when he lost control and crashed out – the debris from the car ultimately striking Justin Wilson’s helmet. It was a tragic end to the race but it was no fault of Karam’s that what happened, happened.

For as much as the community is rallying around Wilson’s family, it needs to do the same for Karam. At 20, he’s a talented driver with a bright future ahead of him, who continued to mature over the course of the season. You just don’t want Pocono to be the race that affects him psychologically, and prevents him from fully realizing his undoubted potential.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Stefano Coletti

Stefano Coletti
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series driver-by-driver lineup. In 19th place and the second-ranked rookie this season, was KV Racing Technology’s Stefano Coletti.

Stefano Coletti, No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

  • 2014: GP2
  • 2015: 19th Place, Best Finish 8th, Best Start 8th, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 18.9 Avg. Start, 18.6 Avg. Finish

Coletti struggled in his rookie season, which was a bit surprising after an impressive preseason testing period that helped him secure the second KV Racing Technology car alongside KVSH Racing lead driver Sebastien Bourdais.

The GP2 graduate produced early season excitement where he was a passing star, but that only seemed to deceive for the rest of the year. The only time he started ahead of Bourdais was at Iowa, when Bourdais crashed in qualifying.

Similar to other drivers KV has had in previous years Coletti was often hard on equipment, with a frequent number of either full-on accidents or less damaging spins, although not all were his fault. A trouble-free weekend for him rarely occurred, and eighth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis marked his only top-10 result of the year.

It was a year that paled in comparison to Sebastian Saavedra’s difficult 2014, which paled in comparison to Simona de Silvestro in 2013, which… well you get the point. The lack of consistency for the team’s second car probably doesn’t help, but Coletti offered few moments of brilliance in a deep field where he needed to stand out.

Given the resources at his disposal, ending 78 points behind rookie-of-the-year Gabby Chaves seemed a fairly substantial margin. If he returns for 2016, he has a big jump to make.