Keselowski destroys field at Richmond; Newman, Biffle make Chase

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Brad Keselowski led all but 17 laps Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway to win the Federated Auto Parts 400, while Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle earned the final two spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Keselowski’s fourth win of 2014 also brought him the No. 1 seed for the Chase, which begins next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. It is also the 400th win in major racing competition for legendary team owner Roger Penske.

“What a night,” Keselowski told ESPN. “I pulled into Victory Lane and I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. These are nights that as a driver, you live for…I couldn’t ask for a better way to enter the Chase – to come in with a win and take the first seed.

“We’re ready. We want to run for another Cup. We really feel like this [No. 2] team and Team Penske is clicking. [And the] 400th win for Team Penske – this feels so lucky, man, to have such an incredible team and car like we did tonight and be able to execute.”

Meanwhile, Newman earned the No. 15 seed with a steady ninth-place effort and Biffle, despite finishing two laps down, grabbed the No. 16 and final seed with a 19th-place result.

Biffle ended up making the Chase by just seven points over Clint Bowyer. The two-time Richmond winner was strong Saturday but ultimately finished third behind Keselowski and Jeff Gordon in a race he needed to win.

Jamie McMurray, another driver that had to win tonight, finished fourth instead. Kevin Harvick, who led the 17 laps Keselowski didn’t pace, came home fifth.

Pole sitter Keselowski led the race for the first 42 laps until Harvick, after using the high line successfully in the first stint, passed him for the point. A competition caution came out at Lap 50 due to earlier rains at RIR with Harvick leading Keselowski, Gordon, Bowyer, and Kurt Busch.

But in subsequent pit stops, Keselowski and Bowyer jumped Harvick for first and second respectively. Unfortunately for Bowyer, he got a poor restart at Lap 58 and had to settle in fourth, while Harvick moved to second and McMurray moved to third.

Bowyer got back to third around McMurray at Lap 82. A bit farther back, his fellow bubble drivers had mixed fortunes in this stint: Newman moved into the Top 10, while Kyle Larson dropped all the way to 15th at Lap 100 after restarting in sixth. As for Biffle (who entered Richmond holding the final Chase Grid position), he made minimal progress and ran 16th at the quarter-point of the race.

At Lap 120, Harvick again caught Keselowski and used the high line to clear him and start his second appearance at the front. Five laps later, debris on the back stretch brought out the first “true” yellow of the evening.

Another set of stops ensued for the leaders and once again, Keselowski won the race off pit road while Harvick slipped again to third behind Gordon leading into the restart at Lap 132. Also dropping positions in the pits was Bowyer, who fell to fifth after his jack man took a spill during his stop.

Outside of Bowyer taking fourth from McMurray at Lap 169, the Top 5 was pretty much static throughout the stint. Newman remained entrenched in the Top 10, Larson again slipped from that bracket after an early charge, and Biffle was still stuck in the mid-teens.

More stops began shortly after the halfway mark, with the leaders coming in starting around Lap 230. When the cycle ended, Harvick had gone to second and Bowyer to third – but Keselowski remained in P1.

A debris yellow at Lap 262 ended a 131-lap stretch under green conditions, but the Top 5 on the track all retained their spots after pit stops. The Lap 271 restart saw Bowyer pass Harvick for second, but Keselowski again pulled away.

As the race crossed the Lap 300 mark – 100 laps to go – Biffle’s grip on the final Chase spot had become tenuous. Unable to advance, he found himself one lap down in 20th and needing to have Keselowski stay in front of the winless Bowyer.

Biffle got some good news on Lap 319 when Gordon passed Bowyer for second ahead of a Lap 331 caution for – and we’re not kidding – a spectator having climbed up the catch fence in Turn 4.

While the local authorities saw to that situation, the leaders pitted. But as he had all night, Keselowski got another good stop from his No. 2 crew and won the race out to set up for what would be the final restart with 64 laps to go.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Richmond – Federated Auto Parts 400
Unofficial Results
1. Brad Keselowski, led 383 laps
2. Jeff Gordon
3. Clint Bowyer
4. Jamie McMurray
5. Kevin Harvick, led 17 laps
6. Joey Logano
7. Kurt Busch
8. Jimmie Johnson
9. Ryan Newman
10. Aric Almirola
11. Kyle Larson
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
13. Brian Vickers
14. Kyle Busch
15. Tony Stewart
16. Danica Patrick
ONE LAP DOWN
17. Kasey Kahne
18. Paul Menard
TWO LAPS DOWN
19. Greg Biffle
20. Austin Dillon
21. Denny Hamlin
FOUR LAPS DOWN
22. Carl Edwards
23. A.J. Allmendinger
24. Reed Sorenson
25. Martin Truex Jr.
26. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
FIVE LAPS DOWN
27. Marcos Ambrose
28. Justin Allgaier
29. David Gilliland
SIX LAPS DOWN
30. Cole Whitt
31. Casey Mears
32. Josh Wise
33. David Ragan
34. Landon Cassill
35. Mike Bliss
EIGHT LAPS DOWN
36. David Stremme
37. Michael Annett
NINE LAPS DOWN
38. Alex Bowman
39. Travis Kvapil

40. Joe Nemechek, Lap 388, Running
41. Matt Kenseth, Lap 330, Running
42. Ryan Truex, Lap 313, Running
43. J.J. Yeley, Lap 31, Brakes

Newgarden tries to regain control of IndyCar championship race at Iowa

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NEWTON, Iowa – There are just six races left in the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series championship and Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden has a hard-charging Alexander Rossi closing in on his gearbox. Newgarden’s lead is down to just three points after last Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

Newgarden has been the leader in the standings after every race this season, with the exception of the 103rdIndianapolis 500, when he trailed Team Penske teammate and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden by one point.

Is Newgarden worried entering Saturday night’s Iowa 300 at Iowa Speedway?

“I’m confident we have good cars,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.com. “You can have bad weekends here and there. I think we can have a good result the rest of the year. But there are a lot of guys still in it. Rossi is the guy who is the closest, but you can’t count out Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon or Will Power. It’s going to be a fight until the end for this championship.

“We briefly lost the points lead after the Indy 500. Simon and I were one point apart. We’ve had better consistency this year. That is what is going to pay off at the end. We’ve been consistent up to this point and we have to continue it to the end.

“Look at all of these championship runs, most of the times it goes to the most consistent driver. You have to have clean finishes for every run. If you don’t, it’s pretty tough to make up the deficit.”

Newgarden has had a remarkably consistent season with three wins, six podiums (top three) and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

Rossi has nearly matched him with two wins, six podiums and nine top-five finishes in 11 races.

These two drivers are nearly in a dead heat, so as the championship leader, can Newgarden force his fiercest foes into making mistakes?

“I’m a little bit boring,” Newgarden said. “I do the same thing every time. It puts more pressure on guys like Scott Dixon, who has to win races to catch up. They are going to be more aggressive. Our program is boring and that is trying to maximize each race individually. That is what we have to do.

“I don’t know if it is that different than being in a fight with Will Power or Simon Pagenaud or Scott Dixon. They have different tendencies. Alex is the more aggressive of those other drivers. It’s fun going up against all of them. Alex is really good. He has a certain style you have to play against. If it was Scott, it would be just as exciting, but it would be a different game.

“Alex brings a more aggressive side to the conversation.”

That aggressive fight continues to the .875-mile short oval at Iowa Speedway, site of Saturday night’s Iowa 300.

It’s one of Newgarden’s better tracks. He set an IndyCar Series record for leading the most laps in a single race when he was in front for 282 laps in his 2016 Iowa win with Ed Carpenter Racing. That was preceded by two straight second place finishes at Iowa in 2014 and 2014.

Since joining Team Penske in 2017, Newgarden finished sixth that season and fourth in 2018 in a race where he led 211 laps.

“We were pretty good there last year,” Newgarden admitted. “We qualified well, but we were a little shy of what we needed last year. The race didn’t pan out the way we needed it to. Our strategy wasn’t perfect there. But those are things we can clean up. We have a really capable group. I think we’ll have a good car there, again. I feel good about it. We’ve had good cars there in the past, we were just a tick off. I think we will be better there this year.

“We should be fine.”

Short oval racing is a unique form that adds diversity to the schedule as drivers have to get on an off the accelerator and on and off the brake, all while dealing with traffic throughout the 300-lap contest.

It’s that type of close quarter racing that real racers love.

“Iowa, for sure is a racer’s track,” Newgarden said. “It’s very bumpy, with a lot of character. It’s one of my favorite short ovals that we go to. I love that place. A lot of the tracks we go to are racer’s race tracks. There aren’t a lot of bad ones of the schedule. There are tracks with diverse challenges and you like that. Going from Toronto to Iowa to Mid-Ohio, they are all different tracks that require different setups, different driving styles.

“It’s like the championship is a driver’s championship. That is what it demands.”

An NTT IndyCar Series race at Iowa Speedway is a special experience because it’s played out in front of grass-roots racing fans. These are the fans that following auto racing on a regular basis, many of which are regulars for sprint car racing down the road at Knoxville Speedway in Knoxville, Iowa.

“They are all different race fans,” Newgarden said. “Toronto has a bustling city vibe. Iowa is a bunch of farmers. Really nice people who are salt of the earth farmers who come out and enjoy racing. Mid-Ohio is a hybrid. It’s very much a Midwest race but different from Iowa.

“You get these different pockets of different fans, different people, different racers but they all like IndyCar racing and that’s pretty cool.”