NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Keselowski Stretches Fuel To Win History 300 at Charlotte

There wasn’t a question of whether Brad Keselowski was fast enough to win the History 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but as the laps ticked away and Keselowski held a solid lead over first Kyle Busch and then Denny Hamlin, there was still a question on his mind. Was there enough fuel in the tank of the No. 22 Dodge to make it to lap 200? As it turns out, there was, and Keselowski held on to win by 0.838 seconds over Hamlin, running 73 laps without stopping for fuel. Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top-5. The rest of the top-10 included Joey Logano, James Buescher, Justin Allgaier, Sam Hornish, Jr., and Joey Coulter, who made his Nationwide debut this week.

While Keselowski and Hamlin were among seven drivers to lead the race, a points battle was brewing behind them. But at first, that didn’t look like it would be the case. Joey Logano led the field to green on Saturday afternoon. Point leader Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. almost immediately took the field three-wide in Logano’s rear view mirror as he fought for position, and second-place Elliott Sadler slid back in the early laps.

The green flag didn’t fly for long, though, as Travis Pastrana, who had started in 42nd spot due to a spin in qualifying, turned it around again in turn 4, bringing out the first of seven caution flags for the afternoon. With limited tires for the race, nobody came to pit road. When the action got back underway, Logano got a smooth restart over Sam Hornish, Jr. and Stenhouse, as the field battled two-wide behind him.

Just as everyone was getting a good rhythm going, the engine let go on the No. 23 of Robert Richardson, dropping fluids on the track and bringing out caution number two. Richardson wasn’t the only driver facing engine problems early-Denny Hamlin came to pit road under the yellow so his team could change the carburetor on the No. 18, and afterward, Hamlin reported that his engine still didn’t feel right, and at that point, his team made the decision to run as far as they could and see if they could learn anything. It turned out to be the right decision as the problem resolved and Hamlin was in contention for the win when all was said and done.

When the race went back to green on lap 22, it was Kevin Harvick who wasted no time in taking the lead and running with it. Harvick stretched out to as much as four seconds over second-place at one point, and led four times for a race-high 92 laps. Logano faded a bit along with several others, including Danica Patrick, who started third but fell to 11th by lap 29 and wound up finishing 13th.

As the quarter mark of the race came and went, point leader Ricky Stenhouse, Jr was on the move, moving up to second spot, despite angering Brad Keselowski, who noted that the reigning champ was “driving over his head again.” But all was not well for Stenhouse, who would end up spending 22 laps in the garage for repairs after running over a piece of debris that broke the drivetrain in the No. 6 Ford, and opening up the door for Sadler to gain on him in the race.

The afternoon’s third caution was for the No. 00 of Angela Cope and an engine gone south. A few drivers, including Hornish, Patrick, and Mike Bliss, had already come to pit road for service, and lost a lap, which they were all able to regain by taking the wave-around. Harvick was almost trapped as well, but was able to avoid the commitment line at the last second. The leaders came to pit road under yellow for tires and fuel, while Jason Bowles stayed out to lead and get his team a bonus point.

But it was all Harvick when the race went back to green. Unfortunately for the Richard Childress Racing driver, that lasted just four laps before Pastrana spun for a second time in turn 4, bringing out the fourth caution. Pastrana again avoided hitting anything, and the caution lasted just three laps. Harvick held the point on the restart, but Keselowski began to show his hand, moving up to second as Kasey Kahne faded a little.

A round of green flag pit stops began at lap 112, allowing both Justin Allgaier and Mike Wallace to lead laps for bonus points, as Harvick held on through the cycle to lead when everyone had stopped. With 80 to go, Harvick looked to be the man to beat as he led Keselowski and Logano easily, but the yellow flags weren’t done yet, and the next one flew at lap 125 after Tayler Malsam slapped the wall. The damage to Malsam’s car was fairly minimal, but there was enough debris to cause the slowdown. This time it was Logano who led the field off pit road after a two-tire stop for the top five. When the race went back to green, Logano got a solid start from the outside lane, clearing Kahne and leaving him to fight Harvick and Kyle Busch instead. But the two-tire strategy didn’t work for Logano’s car for long, and both Kahne and Harvick worked him over and Kahne took the lead for a pair of laps before handing it over to Keselowski.

From then on, it was clear that Keselowski had the car to beat. He led until the sixth caution flew on lap 139 for a two-car accident between Bowles and Josh Richards. Keselowski and crew chief Jeremy Bullins made the decision to stay out despite being three to five laps short on fuel, banking on there being enough caution laps to make up the difference. Kahne and Allgaier also gambled while the other leaders came to pit road for fuel.

This time the green flag lasted just two laps before fluid on the track from the wreck caused several cars to slide, and Brian Scott couldn’t hang onto the No. 11, spinning in the fluid and collecting Cole Whitt. This time the track was cleaned thoroughly, and the green flag would stay out until the white replaced it.

And it was all the Brad Keselowski Show, as Keselowski left Busch, Hamlin, and Harvick to battle for second. Busch took it until inside 15 to go, trading gains of a tenth or two with Keselowski until Hamlin caught Busch and passed him for the spot, his engine woes long gone. Hamlin was able to close within a second of Keselowski, and the question as the laps ticked by was whether Keselowski’s fuel could last the 73 laps required for the win. In the end, it did, with enough left over for a celebratory burnout in honor of Bullins’ first career win as a crew chief.

Stenhouse’s drivetrain issue cost him 21 of the 34 point cushion he had entering the weekend. Sadler sits 13 back in second, and rookie Austin Dillon is third, 28 behind Stenhouse. Hornish and Cole Whitt round out the top-5.

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