Throughout the AAA 400 at the Dover International Speedway, Brad Keselowski watched as Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson dominated the action until fuel issues slowed them in the late going. Seizing upon the opportunity and gambling on fuel, Keselowski soared to the front on the 392nd lap to win for the fifth time in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series action in 2012. And more importantly, the Michigan ace scored his second victory in three races in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
In winning, Keselowski moved into first place in the Chase standings, leading Jimmie Johnson, the previous leader, by five markers. Hamlin is in third 16 points back with Clint Bowyer fourth and Tony Stewart fifth.
Dover has been one of my worse tracks, but I ran up front all day.
About the track, he added, “Dover has been one of my worse tracks, but I ran up front all day. I may not have had the best car, but I hung around in that top five, just kept creeping around and when you do that, you put yourself in position for good things to happen. Man, if we keep doing this the next seven weeks, it will be an awesome seven weeks.”
Stated crew chief Paul Wolfe, “This was an unbelievable day. That was a type of performance that we needed to stay in this championship, and we showed today that we’re going to continue to be there every week. Brad did a great job saving us fuel at the end to where we didn’t have to fully back down.”
Wolfe speculated the winning Dodge had enough fuel to complete another lap or two, at best.
Team owner Roger Penske’s first post-race statement was to dedicate the race win to Chris Economaki, the famed journalist who passed away Friday. “I want to dedicate this race to Chris. I go back 45 years with him as a driver. He always cared about the little guy, and he would be proud to know we are dedicating this race to him.”
In pre-race ceremonies, Economaki was remembered with a moment of silence.
Regarding the race, Penske stated, “Today was all about teamwork. We knew we had the speed, but we couldn’t’ show that at the end as we didn’t want to come in like the other guys did. I think Brad’s ability to get through the traffic was like that of Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. He’s right up there with them and didn’t make a mistake, and we didn’t lose any time on the track. I want to congratulate Brad and the team.”
The victor drove the Miller Lite Dodge to earn his ninth victory in 118 Sprint Cup races. Also, he racked up his 18th top-10 finish of the season. And he won for the first time at Dover and earned his first top-10 finish on the challenging track in six races.
Johnson admitted he has a short-coming in being able to race to save fuel.
Busch, who led 302 laps, ended up seventh and teammate Hamlin came back to finish eighth.
When the front-runners stopped or slowed, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin forged ahead, as they had no problems with fuel.
Gordon ended up in second place with Martin coming in third.
Said Gordon, who is 10th in points after the race, “Our car was pretty good right from the start. We struggled a little bit on the shorter runs, but we did get it going. The car was a good top-three or four car. Our tires had no front grip on restarts, and that probably played to our favor because we came in and topped off (on fuel). Then, we didn’t have to save fuel and we could keep the pressure on those other guys. I thought it was going to be a battle between me and Mark (Martin), but the No. 2 (Keselowski) made it. Still a great finish and to come home second.”
As usual, Gordon steered the Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet.
Martin was thrilled with the outcome, as he had lost a lap with some two dozen others in the early going, but over the course of the race, he slowly moved through the field and at times, he had the fastest car on the track.
He drove the Aaron’s 2000th Store – Bronx, N. Y. Toyota.
“I don’t know if anyone noticed, but we had a rocket ship,” Martin said. “At the start of the race, we were passing cars right and left. It was awesome. We were making our way up from deep in the pack and just about to get into the race when we pitted under the green. As soon as we came back out, the caution came out and it had us trapped two laps down.”
Carl Edwards pushed his Ford to fifth place after being a lap down to the field for half the race.
Finishing sixth was Martin Truex Jr., and he was followed by Busch, Hamlin, Bowyer and Joey Logano.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran well and took 11th place after a late-race stop for fuel.
The race standings were jumbled after the 70th lap, as a caution flag came out after a majority of the field, excluding the top-six cars, had pitted. The situation allowed the front-runners to pit during the caution period, and this group gained nearly two laps on the rest of the field. Their advantage was narrowed as the race wound down, setting up a scramble at the finish.
Five caution flags slowed the race for 28 laps. Three slowdowns were for debris and Matt Kenseth triggered the other two.
The Sprint Cup Series travels to the Talladega Superspeedway next weekend for the Good Sam Club 500.
Story by: Joe Jennings