Brad Keselowski surges late, wins at Charlotte

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When tonight’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was effectively transformed into a 23-lap sprint race, Brad Keselowski was the fastest when it counted.

A debris yellow with 28 laps to go set up a frenzied dash to the finish, and Keselowski was able to charge from sixth off the restart to the front with nine laps remaining before going on to score his first Sprint Cup win in the last 38 races.

The late caution ended what had been a dominant run from Jimmie Johnson in the middle section of the race. Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon used two-tire stops under the yellow to move ahead of Johnson (who took four tires), and on the restart, Johnson washed up the track in Turn 1 to lose multiple positions.

Johnson would rally to finish fourth, but still ended up just behind Matt Kenseth, who slightly extended his lead over Johnson in the Chase for the Sprint Cup to four points.

Keselowski disposed of Kenseth for second place with 18 laps to go and then began his march toward Kahne. With 11 to go, Keselowski was actually able to take the lead but Kahne got a major run on the inside coming off of Turn 4 and beat Keselowski to the stripe, staying ahead.

But two laps later, Keselowski regained the top spot and pulled away to what would be a one-second win over the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

“I love hard racing and there are a handful of guys you can’t race hard with in this [series] because they freak out – Kasey’s not one of them,” Keselowski told ESPN about his fight with Kahne. “He’s an excellent driver and he ran me hard but he ran me clean, and that’s great racing. I’m proud to race with him.

“He did a hell of a job and deserves a lot of credit for it, but at the end of the day, the Miller Lite Ford Fusion was just fast and we persevered.”

Meanwhile, Kenseth was able to save his points lead despite having handling issues with his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the early stages of the race.

“We were off the first two or three runs and I just couldn’t stand it,” Kenseth said. “We just couldn’t get it to turn. But [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] found some adjustments that the car really liked – it really woke the car up mid-race.

“We were so far behind because I’d qualified so poorly and it took all night to get back [up front], but at the very end, he gave me a shot to win and I’m slightly disappointed that I didn’t take advantage of that opportunity.”

As for Johnson, he was ultimately unable to score what would have been a record-breaking seventh career win at Charlotte despite leading 130 laps.

“The last caution certainly shook things up, and I pushed the 5 [Kahne] off into Turn 1 and evidently, I was too close and was in his wake and the car washed up a little bit,” Johnson said about the final restart that cost him dearly.

“…I just lost track position at that point, which was unfortunate. Once I got rolling again, I was fine but I had lost too much at that point.”

Kyle Busch finished fifth, followed by Kevin Harvick in sixth, pole sitter Jeff Gordon in seventh, Ryan Newman in eighth, Denny Hamlin in ninth, and Carl Edwards in 10th.

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”