By Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
- Keselowski gets 2nd career victory
- First win for crew chief Paul Wolfe
- Earnhardt Jr, Hamlin get 2nd, 3rd place
Brad Keselowski made every move necessary to make sure he would be able to run the final 57 laps of the STP 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway on a single tank of fuel. The strategy paid off, as he made it to the checkered flag to claim his second-career Cup win and the first for crew chief Paul Wolfe.
“We finally caught a break, Paul,” an excited Keselowski shouted on the radio after taking the checkered flag.
Pit strategy came into play when some drivers pitted and others stayed out during a caution that came out for debris on lap 162. That caution was the final yellow flag of the race. Many of the drivers who pitted, including Earnhardt Jr., Hamlin, Juan Montoya and Jamie McMurray, waited until the last possible moment to make their stop, making it the final one of the race. The ones who stayed out under that last caution, had to make two green-flag stops during the remaining laps.
After making his final with stop, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was instructed by crew chief Steve Letarte to chase down Denny Hamlin. The No. 88 team of Earnhardt Jr. and the No. 11 team of driver Denny Hamlin thought that their battle for the third spot with about 10 laps to go was actually the race for the win.
The No. 88 and No. 11 teams didn’t count on Keselowski, who pitted five laps earlier than their drivers, being able to save enough fuel to go the distance.
Meanwhile, Keselowski expected Tony Stewart to go the distance in front of him, since he and Stewart made their final stops on the same lap.
“We caught a great break today,” Keselowski said. “I was just hoping to hang on to second.”
Stewart decided not to take the gamble, though, and came down pit road in the closing laps for a splash of fuel, leaving Keselowski up front for the final nine laps of the race – the only laps Keselowski led all race long.
“It was just pit strategy, Stewart said. “We didn’t get all the fuel in it.”
Stewart ended up finishing eighth.
Earnhardt Jr. finished second and Hamlin third.
“We had a good car,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “But we shouldn’t have finished second.
After working his way toward the front from a starting spot near the back, Earnhardt Jr. spun on lap 152 to end up near the back again, and the fuel conservation strategy was the only way for him to get back to the front.
Keselowski’s Penske Racing teammate, Kurt Busch, led the most laps after starting on the pole. He slid back several positions at the start of the race and complained to his crew over the radio that the car was too tight to drive.
Busch made his way back toward the front fairly quickly, though, and dominated the race. Staying out during the lap 162 caution set his destiny for the remainder of the race, requiring two green-flag stops in the final 100 laps. Several other front-runners were in the same situation, though, so Busch was still able to post a top-10, finishing ninth.
Keselowski, Earnhardt Jr., and Hamlin were the only drivers who managed to stretch fuel mileage at the end to finish in the top-10. Jeff Gordon finished fourth, and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-five after leading several laps early in the race.
“The track changed a little bit,” Edwards said. “It kept getting slicker and slicker.”