By Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
- Keselowski gets 1st 2011 NNS win
- Harvick, Kyle Busch finish 2nd & 3rd
- Sadler assumes NNS points lead
Keselowski saves fuel for Nationwide win at Kentucky
In what became a fuel mileage race, Brad Keselowski turned in a dominating performance to claim his first NASCAR Nationwide win of the season on Friday when he took the checkered flag in the Save the Children 300 at Kentucky Speedway from behind the wheel of his No. 22 Penske Racing Dodge.
“This car was awesome,” Keselowski said in victory lane.
You just can’t fumble when it’s crunch time.
Kevin Harvick finished second in his No. 33 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch coasted to a third-place finish in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Harvick took the lead away from his KHI teammate, Elliott Sadler in the No. 2 Chevrolet, on lap nine of the race and pulled away from the rest of the field. Harvick held the top spot until Keselowski beat him off pit road during the second caution of the race that came out on lap 65.
Keselowski dominated the remainder of the race, with Harvick holding down the second position through most of the remaining laps.
The final caution of the event came out on lap 133, and the entire field pitted for fuel. Still outside the calculated fuel widow, most of the Nationwide Series championship-eligible drivers made a green flag stop for a splash of gas in the closing laps.
Meanwhile, several NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars who were only concerned with a race win rolled the dice and went into fuel conservation mode for the final 66 laps of the race. Keselowski, Harvick and Busch were among the drivers who stayed out.
“It’s all about strategy,” Keselowski said, comparing NASCAR racing to a game of poker.
Keselowski had a sizeable lead in the closing laps, but he had slowed to save fuel on occasion, only to pick up the pace again when Harvick would close in on him.
Harvick lost significant track position on Keselowski in the late going when his crew mistakenly thought NASCAR was going to throw a caution for a car that had slowed on the race track. Harvick was told to pit, but was then told to stay out right after he had slowed to come down pit road. Harvick wound up staying out, but lost valuable time to Keselowski, giving Keselowski a larger cushion for fuel conservation.
“You just can’t fumble when it’s crunch time,” Harvick said, expressing displeasure with his team’s late-race indecisiveness.
Busch made it to the finish, but just barely. He ran out of fuel as he crossed the start/finish line for the final time.
“All in all, we gave it the best we had,” Busch said.
According to Busch, he probably would have finished somewhere around the sixth position had more cars stayed out.
Kasey Kahne finished fourth in the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in his first race with the team. Sadler, who started on the pole, finished fifth to assume the championship points lead.