Amanda Vincent, NASCAR correspondent
Keselowski claims 3rd win in 2011; Truex Jr., Jeff Gordon finish 2nd & 3rd
Brad Keselowski sailed away from the rest of the field with four fresh tires on his No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge in the closing laps to claim the win in the Irwin Tools Night Race NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday.
“This is a race of champions,” an elated Keselowski said after the race, rattling off names like Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt as past winners of the night race at Bristol.
We made good adjustments to the car during the race.
Martin Truex Jr. finished second in the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota and Gordon drove the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet to a third-place finish.
Gordon dominated much of the race after he took the lead from pole sitter Ryan Newman in the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet on lap five. Newman then proceeded to fall back through the field and outside the top-10.
Matt Kenseth got his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford off pit road first during several cycles of pit stops throughout the race to take the lead from Gordon. But Gordon would always reassume the lead within a handful of laps.
“The pit road thing is interesting here,” Gordon said of drivers speeding up in places on pit road, taking advantage of the locations of the timing lines.
During the final cycle of pits stops, though, Gordon lost several positions and wasn‘t able to gain them all back.
Kyle Busch made slight contact with the wall in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and left debris on the race track to bring out the sixth caution of the race with 90 laps to go. All lead lap cars headed down pit road under the caution, but strategies varied.
Truex returned to the race track with the lead after taking only two tires.
“I don’t think it was that big of a gamble,” Truex said. “We took two earlier in the race and it went fine.”
Keselowski was the first driver off pit road with four tires to restart the race in the second spot. Newman, like Truex, took only two to restart in the third spot, a gain of 12 positions. The race’s dominator to that point, Gordon, was shuffled back to sixth for the restart.
“We had the stop that counted tonight,” No. 2 crew chief Paul Wolfe said of getting Keselowski out first among the drivers with four fresh tires.
Newman dropped back several positions on the restart and Keselowski quickly got by Truex for the lead. Gordon began making his way back toward the front but his ascent was halted by Truex. As Truex and Gordon raced side-by-side for several laps in a battle for the second spot, Keselowski pulled away and went on to claim his third win of the season and his first Sprint Cup victory at Bristol.
“We made good adjustments to the car during the race,” Keselowski said.
Newman dropped back to finish eighth. Jimmie Johnson finished fourth in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, and Jamie McMurray drove the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet to a fifth-place finish. Kenseth wound up sixth, and Denny Hamlin with seventh in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.