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Keselowski saves fuel, claims victory at Kansas

June 08, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service, NASCAR.com



Keselowski saves fuel, claims victory at Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Stretching his fuel mileage to the maximum, Brad Keselowski coasted across the finish line to win Sunday's STP 400 at Kansas Speedway.

In winning his first Sprint Cup race of the season and the second of his career, Keselowski got 57 green-flag laps out of his last tank of fuel. Keselowski prevented runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr., his old boss at JR Motorsports, from ending a drought that reached 106 races.

"We've been so close. We've been plugging away. We had a car that I thought was capable of winning."

--BRAD KESELOWSKI

Denny Hamlin, who like Earnhardt was conserving fuel, came home third, followed by Jeff Gordon and series points leader Carl Edwards.

For once, Keselowski found himself on the right side of fortunes of racing.

"We've been so close," Keselowski said. "We've been plugging away. We had a car that I thought was capable of winning. I had a car last week that sat on the pole [at Charlotte] and had a shot at it and just caught the wrong line on the restart.

"The same thing at Dover and Darlington -- we could just never catch that good break. You can only put yourself in that position so many times before you're going to catch the right break. We caught a great break today because of all the hard work by the Miller Lite team that works on these Dodge Chargers. We got great gas mileage, and that doesn't hurt either."

Steve Letarte, Earnhardt's crew chief, was convinced Earnhardt's pass of Hamlin on Lap 256 of 267 was for the win. Earnhardt and Hamlin had come to the pits under caution on Lap 163, setting up a scenario where they could finish the race on one more stop, while the vast majority of cars ahead of them would have to make two.

That's the way 13th race of the season played out -- with one exception. Keselowski found a way to make it to the finish after a green-flag pit stop on Lap 210, foiling the winning chances of Earnhardt and Hamlin, who made their final stops on Lap 215.

"We had a good car. We just didn't have a second-place car -- not at all -- but we had a top-10 car."

--DALE EARNHARDT JR.

During the closing laps, Letarte told Earnhardt to back down his pace and conserve fuel, sacrificing any chance of catching Keselowski, who crossed the stripe 2.813 seconds ahead of Earnhardt. In last week's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, Earnhardt had the lead before running out of fuel in the last half-mile and finishing seventh.

But Keselowski didn't oblige Earnhardt by running out of gas. In fact, Keselowski had a fuel surplus at the end of the race, while Earnhardt ran out at the start/finish line.

For his part, Earnhardt, who spun off Turn 4 on Lap 152 to cause the fourth caution of the race, seemed almost embarrassed to have finished second.

"I went to searching for more speed and busted my butt up there on [Turns] 3 and 4," Earnhardt said of his spin. "And tossed [away] all the spots we worked for all day.

"But it also gave Steve the chance to play the strategy game ... when that caution came out that we came and got fuel. We put ourselves in a one-stop scenario where everybody else didn't pit. [The leaders] can't give up the track position because it's so hard to pass. So they stayed out there knowing they'd have to come down to pit road twice. And that was the game that we took. ... [There] could have had a caution [that] changed everybody's strategy, but it worked out for us right to the end.

"We had a good car. We just didn't have a second-place car -- not at all -- but we had a top-10 car."

Keselowski's Penske Racing teammate, pole-sitter Kurt Busch, dominated the race, leading 152 laps. But he had to pit late for fuel and finished ninth.

Notes-n-Nuggets

• This is Brad Keselowski's second Cup win in his 66th race.
• The win at Kansas ended a 60-race winless streak for Brad Keselowski.
• This is Brad Keselowski's best finish at Kansas. His previous best was 13th in 2009.
• Brad Keselowski is the fourth different race winner in the past four races at Kansas and the eighth different winner in 11 Cup races at the track.
• This is the 67th Cup victory for Penske Racing and first for the team in 2011.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. (second) posted his fifth second-place finish since his last win at Michigan (June 2008) and this is his best finish in 11 races at Kansas.
• Denny Hamlin finished third in his 200th career Cup Series start. This is his fourth top-10 finish in the past five races in 2011.
• Jeff Gordon (fourth) has finished fifth or better in the past five Kansas races and his first top-10 since he finished third at Talladega five races ago. Gordon has nine top-10 finishes in 11 Kansas races, the most by any driver.
• Carl Edwards (fifth) scored his seventh top-five finish in 2011. Edwards posted top-10 finishes in the past four Kansas races.
• Jimmie Johnson (seventh) has scored top-10 finishes in the past five Kansas races.
• Kurt Busch (ninth) earned his first top-10 at Kansas since 2004.
• Greg Biffle (10th) is the only driver to score nine consecutive top-15 finishes at Kansas.

Filling out the top 10 were Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Busch and Greg Biffle. Edwards expanded his lead in the standings to 40 points over Johnson, who moved into second place. Earnhardt is third, 41 points behind Edwards.