Brad Keselowski held off the NASCAR Nationwide Series' most successful driver at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway and the circuit's all-time winningest driver to claim his own second win in Nationwide competition at Richmond on Friday night in the Toyota Care 250 in his No. 22 Penske Racing Ford.
"We keep trying to make things better and better, and it's working," Keselowski's crew chief Jeremy Bullins said, reflecting on the 2012 race in which the No. 22 team turned in its worst performance of the year with its worst car of the year.
Although the win was Keselowski's second in Richmond, he's struggled there in recent races.
"We've struggled here at Richmond too in both the Cup and the Nationwide cars, so it’s great to get that turned around and finally get to victory lane in a Ford," Keselowski said.
Kevin Harvick, the winningest driver at Richmond, finished second in the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Kyle Busch, the all-time win leader on the circuit, finished a distant third in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
While there was celebrating in victory lane, there were fireworks on pit road after the race, courtesy of Nelson Piquet Jr., driver of the No. 30 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet, and Brian Scott, driver of the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
According to Scott, once the race ended, he went to Piquet to discuss contact between the two drivers during the race, but Piquet wasn't receptive.
"He kicked me below the belt," Scott said of his encounter with Piquet. "He runs into me every week, and I kind of had it."
Afterward, Piquet expressed displeasure in being bothered by Scott.
"I'm not going to take anymore crap from him," Piquet said.
While things got physical between Scott and Piquet about mid-pack, Keselowski, Harvick and Busch were mainstays up front, running in the top-five for much of the race.
"I thought it (the racing between himself, Harvick and Busch) was pretty darn good," Keselowski said. "I was grinning the whole time. I had fun and Kyle raced me really well, and so did Kevin. I think this is what racing is supposed to be like – side-by-side and just little touches, but not big ones. It was a great race all the way around here at Richmond and this is a great track.”
The trio was led by Keselowski's Penske Racing teammate, Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 12 Ford, early one, as Hornish took the lead on lap six and led the way until the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Elliott Sadler took the lead on lap 80.
At that time, Sadler had the advantage of newer tires. He was among the drivers who headed down pit road when the first caution of the race came out on lap 24. That caution led to a five-minute red flag as rear end grease from the No. 92 Ford of Dexter Stacey was cleaned off the track. Before the race returned to green, Sadler and others running near the back of the lead lap pitted for fresh tires while the front runners stayed out on the race track.
Sadler restarted 18th, but by lap 80, he was in the top-four and moved into the lead a few laps later. Sadler's time up front lasted only a few laps, when Harvick claimed the top spot on a restart following a caution that came out on lap 101 of the 250-lap race.
Harvick moved out to a lead of more than three seconds, but that cushion was erased when the yellow flag waved around lap 150. Keselowski took the lead from Harvick on the restart but then lost spots on pit road during the next caution with about 60 laps to go. Harvick then restarted with the lead, with Sadler in second, Busch in third and Keselowski shuffled back to fourth.
By the time the yellow flag waved again, though, with 49 laps to go, Keselowski was second to Harvick, with Busch in third. When the race restarted, Keselowski moved back into the lead. The caution came out for the sixth time in the race with 42 laps to go when the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Ty Dillon, the No. 31 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet of Justin Allgaier and Scott caught up in a three-car wreck.
Like several previous restarts, Keselowski and Harvick swapped the lead. Harvick wound up in the top spot this time around. Busch got by Harvick to take the lead with 26 to go, and Keselowski followed to take second.
Busch got shuffled back to third in the closing laps, when Keselowski got by to take the lead with 10 laps to go, and Harvick moved into second on the next lap. Busch then lost ground to the top-two cars, as Keselowski and Harvick pulled away while racing for the lead.
Brian Vickers finished fourth in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and Regan Smith was fifth in the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. Sadler wound up sixth and Hornish seventh.