Brad Keselowski’s chance of repeating as Quaker State 400 champion took a lethal hit early in Sunday’s race at Kentucky Speedway when Kurt Busch got into him in Turn 1 of Lap 48, setting off a chain reaction that ended with Greg Biffle slamming into the back of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford.
“He had nowhere to go, so he went through us,” said an agitated Keselowski, whose chance of repeating as Sprint Cup champion also took a hit with his 33rd-place finish that dropped him from ninth to 13th in the points standings.
“He’s smarter than that,” Keselowski added of Busch, who went on to finish sixth. “He knows better than that.”
Biffle finished 34th and dropped from sixth to ninth in the standings.
“I just saw the 2 spinning,” he said. “I had nowhere to go. I just couldn’t get it turned down to miss him. I couldn’t hardly see what happened there. Guys going for the win, I guess, on Lap 48. It’s unfortunate. We had a good car. It sucks to get taken out.”
Both drivers were checked out at the infield care center and eventually returned to the track to complete enough laps to move up a couple of spots and earn a few extra valuable points in the standings.
“We had a decent car,” Keselowski said. “I feel like we could have run respectably today. I don’t know if we were going to threaten for the win, but we obviously could have ran fifth today or so and had a decent day.”
The defending champ said falling outside of the top 10 would not affect the way he approaches the last nine races before the Chase.
“We’re just gonna go do our thing,” he said. “We’re just on a little streak of bad luck that will turn around, and when it does we’ll be in Victory Lane and be all right.”
Denny Hamlin was able to overcome his first blown tire Sunday, but not the second one, which sent him hard into the wall in Turn 4 on Lap 147.
The jarring hit caused concern for team owner Joe Gibbs after Hamlin fractured his lower back March 24 at Auto Club Speedway.
“When I got back (to the garage) he said, ‘Man, I’ve got a headache like you wouldn’t believe,’ ” Gibbs said. “And he banged his knee on the inside. Then we went to the care center and right away he said, ‘I’m feeling better and better.’
“(Today) we are going to test at Indy,” Gibbs said. “They called the doctor over there and he’s going to take a look at him before he gets in the car.”
Earlier in the race, Hamlin had his right front tire go down, and as he was pulling onto pit road the outer skin separated and flew onto the track, where both leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson ran into it and suffered minor damage.
Hamlin finished 35th and fell to 150 points out of the 10th and final spot in the Chase.
A.J. Allmendinger replaced Bobby Labonte as the driver of Penske Racing’s No. 47 car Sunday, ending Labonte’s streak of 704 consecutive starts, the second longest among active drivers behind Jeff Gordon’s 706.
Labonte struggled in the first 16 races this season with an average finish of 28th, including back-to-back last-place showings in his previous two races.
NASCAR suspended Allmendinger one year ago after he failed a drug test at Kentucky Speedway. He was reinstated in September and won his first NASCAR event last weekend in the Nationwide series race at Road America.
He finished 22nd in Sunday’s race, which was the first that didn’t have a Labonte in the field since 1978.
Matt Kenseth’s victory gave him three top-10 finishes in the first three Sprint Cup races at Kentucky Speedway. He was sixth in 2011 and seventh last year. Kyle Busch, the inaugural Quaker State 400 champion, Johnson and Gordon also have finished in the top 10 all three years … Brian Vickers drove a car honoring the NCAA men’s basketball champion Louisville Cardinals and was in contention for a title himself, running fifth when a blown tire sent him into the wall with 24 laps to go. He finished 31st … University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari was scheduled to drive the pace car Saturday night, but after the race was postponed he didn’t return Sunday.