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.
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