So, what was Brad Keselowski’s take on Kentucky Speedway’s first race on the new surface?
What a gas, baby.
Keselowski – who won the Quaker State 400 late Saturday night with flawless fuel-mileage execution – agreed with fellow NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers the conditions were challenging. The repave offered less grip and the difficult entry into Turn 3 challenged even the most seasoned drivers.
But that’s the point, isn’t it?
“We’re professional race car drivers. It shouldn’t be easy,” said Keselowski, who locked up a spot in the Chase for the Cup championship after his series-leading fourth victory. “It was very, very difficult. You had to certainly be very smart.”
During the off season Turns 1-2 were reworked to increasing the banking from 14 degrees to 17. The width was also reduced from 74 feet to 56, making space at a premium.
But it was Turns 3-4 that had many drivers feeling less than groovy. Drivers carried more speed into Turn 3 after the increased banking and with the flat entry had to use more brake.
Of the 10 cautions for accidents, seven occurred in Turns 3-4.
“I anticipated a lot of problems in Turn 3. It’s designed that way,” Keselowski said. “The track is specifically designed for Turns 1-2 to be fast and Turns 3-4 to be slow and very, very difficult to drive. … That’s not a bad thing. That’s how it was meant to be.”
There were 11 cautions (tying last season’s record) for 53 laps (breaking last year’s record of 49). The race managed 10 green flag laps before Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun and smacked the wall in Turn 4. The biggest accident on Lap 93 involved seven cars. Jimmie Johnson (32nd) and Joey Logano (39th) were among the eight cars that failed to finish.
Keselowski was nearly one of them, but for a different reason.
Using NASCAR’s aerodynamic package to his advantage, Keselowski he said he got behind leader Kevin Harvick just enough to take the air off Harvick’s car and get him loose. That bobble enabled Keselowski to take the lead on lap 200 of the 267-lap race.
He lost the lead with six to go to Matt Kenseth. But Kenseth pitted immediately for fuel and tires, surrendering the lead back to Keselowski.
Keselowski, who went the final 71 laps without pitting, gambled his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford had enough in the tank. With two laps left he told crew chief Paul Wolfe the No. 4 was empty.
Keselowski, who held about a nine-second lead over Edwards on lap 262, slowed his pace and shut off his engine to coast for brief stretches. As Edwards charged up to his bumper on the final lap Keselowski refired and pulled way for good. He beat Edwards to the line by 0.175 seconds, fully running out of gas at the start-finish line.
A tow truck pushed his car to Victory Lane.
“I guess I’m impressed that he did beat me, but I don’t want to be,” Edwards said. “He basically shut the car off and went right off of Turn 4 and matched it perfectly to where I couldn’t get by him down the front straightaway. Then he ran like heck through 1-2. … We’d won the race. I was pretty sure we were going to win it. That’s tough. But that’s the way it goes, man.”
Keselowski has won three of the six Sprint Cup races at Kentucky (2012, 2014). With his three Xfinity Series wins (2011, 2013, 2015) he’s won a race at Kentucky six straight years.
Tony Stewart, making his 600th career start, finished fifth. Just like Jeff Gordon last year, Stewart failed to conquer Kentucky in his final race there. Kentucky and Darlington Raceway are the only two active tracks Stewart has never won on.