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Keselowski conserves fuel to win at Dover

September 30, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com

Gamble pays off, propels No. 2 team into the lead in Chase standings

DOVER, Del. -- To his Sprint Cup Series rivals, Brad Keselowski has the annoying habit of doing what he's not supposed to do -- as in winning Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.

Adroitly saving fuel over the final 79-lap green-flag run, the devil in the Blue Deuce, Detroit's consummate wheel man, triumphed in what was perhaps the fourth- or fifth- or sixth-best car in the third Chase for the Sprint Cup race.

Keselowski wasn't supposed to win at Dover, where his career average finish in five previous starts had been 17.0, but he did. Keselowski wasn't supposed to be leading the series standings three races into the Chase, but he is, by five points over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who limped home in fourth place, saving every drop of fuel he could by slowing down and surrendering spots on the track in the closing laps.

* Video: Final Laps | Victory Lane | Post-Race Reactions

The win was supposed to go to Johnson, a seven-time victor at Dover -- tied for the track record with Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. And if not Johnson, then Kyle Busch, who led 302 of 400 laps but had to pit late for fuel.

If not Kyle Busch, then his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, with his pole-winning form and an attitude buttressed by a sports psychologist. Hamlin led the first 34 laps and ran in the top three all afternoon, but a fuel shortage forced him to the pits with nine laps left, at which point Keselowski took over a lead he held to the finish.

Ultimately, Keselowski beat hard-charging Jeff Gordon to the finish line by 1.078 seconds to win his series-best fifth race of the season, his second in the Chase, his first at Dover and the ninth of his career. Gordon had topped off his gas tank on Lap 318 and had ample fuel to get to the finish, as did third-place Mark Martin, who rallied from a lap down to challenge Gordon for the runner-up spot.

Jimmie Johnson held fourth despite drastically backing down his lap speeds to conserve fuel. Carl Edwards ran fifth, posting his first top-five since the Fontana, Calif., race in late March and his third of the season.

Keselowski had nothing but praise for crew chief Paul Wolfe and the team that builds his Penske Racing engines.

"This has been one of my worst tracks," Keselowski said. "I ran up front all day. I may not have had the best car, but hung around in that top five, just creeping around, and when you do that, you put yourself in position for good things to happen.

* Press Pass: Keselowski wins again | Gordon continues climb | Martin slides in

"That's what this No. 2 team has done the last few months. Man, if we keep doing this the next seven weeks, it will be an awesome seven weeks. I'm just really, really proud of the effort."

Johnson seemed poised for an eighth victory, after beating Busch out of the pits under caution on Lap 309, thanks to a 12.5-second stop to Busch's 13.5 seconds. Thirty laps into a green-flag run that started on Lap 322, crew chief Chad Knaus posed an uncomfortable choice to the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet -- either give up positions and save fuel or race hard, plan for another pit stop and hope for another caution.

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Brad Keselowski captured the ninth win of his career in his 118th race.
• Brad Keselowski earned his first victory at Dover in his sixth start at the Monster Mile.
• Brad Keselowski has now won on seven different tracks.
• Brad Keselowski is the 34th different driver to win at Dover.
• Brad Keselowski picked up his fifth win of 2012, and is now tied for the most with Denny Hamlin.
• Brad Keselowski garnered his second career win during the Chase, both have come in 2012.
• Brad Keselowski took the lead on lap 391 for the final time; he led twice for 14 laps.
• Brad Keselowski assumes the points lead; sixth time in nine Chases that the points lead has changed at Dover.
• Brad Keselowski now has top-nine finishes in 12 of the last 13 races, including three wins.
• Three of Brad Keselowski's nine Cup wins have occurred in fuel mileage races.
• All nine Dover chase races have been won by a Chase driver.
• Penske Racing picked up its 76th career win, including its eighth all-time at Dover and fifth victory in 2012.
• Dodge captured its seventh Dover win and fifth victory of 2012.
• Jeff Gordon (second) picked up his fifth top-three finish in the last six races of 2012; lost three points to the leader.
• Mark Martin (third) posted his 24th top-five finish in 53 Dover starts, the 24 top-fives lead all drivers.
• Jimmie Johnson (fourth) became the only driver with top-five finishes in the first three races of the Chase.
• Carl Edwards (fifth) posted only his third top-five finish of the season and first since the fifth race of the season at Auto Club Speedway.
• Martin Truex Jr (sixth) garnered his seventh top-10 finish in the last 11 races of the season.
• Kyle Busch (seventh) led 302 of the 400 laps, the most of all drivers; failed to win in the last seven races after leading the most laps.
• Denny Hamlin (eighth) posted his first top-10 finish in the last four Dover races.
• Clint Bowyer (ninth) has now captured top-10 finishes in eight of the last nine races; one of three drivers with top-10 finishes in all three Chase races this season.
• Joey Logano (10th) posted his fourth top-10 finish in the last six races of the season including in each of the last three races.

They chose the fuel-saving option and salvaged fourth but were unable to contend for the win when the race went green the rest of the way.