BRISTOL, Tenn. – Brad Keselowski technically has not locked up a spot in the Chase after winning his third race of the season, but it is really just a formality before it becomes official. Keselowski took the lead away from Martin Truex Jr. on a lap 421 restart and never relinquished it to win the race that is most synonymous with the “Blue Deuce” that he drives.
Truex held off Jeff Gordon over the last 79 laps of the race to score his best finish of the season, coming home second. Gordon led the most laps in the race but had to settle for a third-place finish. Jimmie Johnson led the race once for 76 laps and came home in fourth position. Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five, running on the bottom of the track where very few others chose to go and leading once for two laps.
Ryan Newman started the race on the pole but only managed to lead the first four laps before slipping back to the fourth position and floundering around either side of the 10th position for last half of the race.
“It was a good call there at the end to put two tires on,” said Newman.
“We just weren’t as good as we should have been car-wise all night. We had about a sixth-to-10th-place car depending on what run it was and we finished eighth. Proud of the guys. I have to thank Bass Pro Shops and Realtree for jumping on board with our Chevrolet. It was a good points day for us looking at the big picture. It is going to take a better performance than that in those last 10 races to be a champion, but I feel like we have something to work with for sure.”
Gordon took the lead from Newman on lap 5 for the first of his five times during the race. Gordon led until the first caution that flew for debris on lap 33. The strength of Gordon’s run continued to bolster his feelings of confidence about contending for a Sprint Cup title.
“I’m excited about our race team. We’ve been running really strong, been leading a lot of laps, running up front at the big races,” Gordon said. “To me, the most impressive thing about my racing was what improvement we made from the spring at this track to this evening.
“We were out to lunch earlier in the year, and I just think we’ve come a long way as a team, communication, confidence and what we’ve learned together on how to make our racecars better and how to communicate better to get the most out of the cars.
“I’m having a blast right now and when you’re having fun it means you’re competitive on a fairly consistent basis, and I hope we can keep that going because we can definitely do some damage and give some guys a real run for their money in the Chase.”
Gordon lost the lead to Keselowski for the first of his race-high seven times leading the event when he pitted during that first caution while Keselowski stayed on the racetrack. Keselowski lost the lead as soon as the race restarted when Matt Kenseth beat him back to the start-finish line. It was the first step of the night toward Kenseth clinching a position in the Chase.
“That is great. My guys have been doing a great job this year and it feels good to clinch that spot,” Kenseth said. “I wish we were running just a hair better, but they did a great job. They had a heck of a battle with Jamie [McMurray] there coming to the finish line and I wish I could have gotten him for fifth, but it was still a good battle. It was next to impossible to pass for nearly 20 laps and you had to get everything you could in the first 10 to 20 laps and then after that you just drive the track.
“The good qualifying effort, great pit stall and great pit stops kept us where we were all night. There were moments in the race where we seemed pretty good and other moments we were just kind of hanging out.”
Keselowski regained the lead during the second caution of the night for a single lap before Johnson grabbed the lead for his only time during the night. The race went back to green and through the third caution flag of the night for debris with Johnson in the lead which aided him in tying Kyle Busch for the season points lead at the end of the night and clinching a Chase position.
“We had a very solid night all night long, Johnson said. “Just very proud of the effort and the way that we’ve been building all season long and getting ourselves ready for the Chase and I think we’re real close and we’re there. Sprint, I have to thank them and all they do for our sport and I’m very honored to have been in every Chase.
“Hopefully, I can get in there and do my job with this Lowe’s Chevrolet once again and I konw my team is going to be ready. We’re going for that sixth championship. Very excited to lock in tonight and in there with Kyle in the points. We’ll go to these next two and see if we can get a W.”
Johnson led for 76 laps before being overtaken by Gordon, who held the lead for another 56 laps, giving it up during a rare (for Bristol) round of green-flag pit stops that saw Keselowski, McMurray, Busch, Joey Logano and David Starr lead before Kenseth wound up back out front again.
Kenseth led Gordon, David Gilliland, Andy Lally and Johnson at the midway point of the race. Over the second half of the race, from lap 250 through lap 416 Kenseth, Gordon and Keselowski took turns leading three times each in that exact order before Truex Jr. broke up the party by leading from lap 416 to lap 420 under the final caution of the night for Busch hitting the wall in turn 3.
Truex Jr. was very proud of his NAPA team after their second-place finish.
“It was a great night for all of us on our NAPA Toyota,” Truex said. “I’m so proud of all the guys at MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) – Chad [Johnston], my crew chief who is still pretty new to this stuff and all the guys in the pits. They had one bad pit stop one from the end, but they were able to rebound on the last one when we got two [tires] and got the lead.
“Just a little too tight on restarts to be able to stay with Brad there. On the long run, we were as good as anyone. Just couldn’t quite hang with him on two and was a little disappointed because I thought we had a shot at it.
Keselowski grabbed the lead on the final restart of the night and held on for the victory. Keselowski now has three wins and can only miss the Chase for the Sprint Cup by falling out of the top 20 in points over the next two races. Keselowski has won four times in 77 Sprint Cup races. This is his first win at Bristol Motor Speedway.
This win qualifies Keselowski a second time for the Sprint Showdown, which means he’ll be racing for two people at Atlanta next weekend. If he wins the race next Sunday night, two fans will split the million dollars.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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