|Thanks to a blazing fast pit stop late in Saturday night’s race, Brad Keselowski and his No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge are virtual locks to make the Chase. (AFP)
TORONTO - Brad Keselowski won the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway much the same way he has vaulted into contention for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship.
For most of the first three-quarters of the 500 laps around Bristol’s banked half-mile oval, Keselowski’s No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge looked, at best, like maybe a top-15 car.
He was careful not to get into any real trouble, staying clear of any mayhem that might cut short his night.
Keselowski, like the nearly 160,000 at the track and millions more on the full ABC/TSN television networks, was watching as the sport’s elite drivers battled it out for the lead.
Jeff Gordon and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet looked as if he had the strongest car on this night but he was challenged in some of the best side-by-side racing on the season by first, Matt Kenseth in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, his teammate Jimmie Johnson in he No. 48 Chevrolet and finally by Martin Truex Jr. in the No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota.
On the final pit stop of the night, however, Keselowski beat them all off of pit road except for Truex.
The resulting track position and his four fresh tires got him past Truex in a hurry and left Gordon, Kenseth. Johnson and Truex to fight for second.
When the finish line was growing ever closer Keselowski appeared to find another gear and all of a sudden, he won a tight race going away.
Many of his competitors in the Cup Chase have to be wondering if this is what they will face once NASCAR’s version of playoffs start in Chicago in three week’s time.
After all, just month ago Keselowski was mirred in 22nd place in the championship standings with one win and a bleak outlook.
Off all the drivers in the top 25 with a win, he looked the least likely to make the Chase.
Keselowski’s crash during testing at Road Atlanta earlier this month when he broke his ankle and badly bruised his back, was seen by many NASCAR insiders as the nail in the coffin on his Cup hopes.
Instead it propelled him and his “Blue Deuce” team to an inspired victory the next week at Pocono, a second place finish at Watkins Glen and a third place finish at Michigan a week ago.
All of a sudden he was a sure bet to — at the very least — clinch one of the two Chase wild card spots.
After Saturday’s Bristol win, however, Keselowski has to be now considered among the favourites to de-throne Johnson from his five-season-long reign as Cup champion.
Only Kyle Busch has more wins — at four — and no one has more momentum right now than the No. 2 team.
The two best drivers in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix Spa-Francorchamps were Germany’s Sebastian Vettel and Michael Schumacher. Vettel overcame tire issues to post his seventh win of the 2011 world championships while Schumacher showed he still has some magic left in his career by coming from dead last to a fifth-place finish. .... There is at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup driver not welcoming IndyCar star Danica Patrick with open arms to the stock car series. It was speculated that Robby Gordon would give up his No. 7 to the 29-year-old Patrick. Not so. “They don’t have enough money (to buy it from me),” Gordon said at Bristol Motor Speedway. ... The future of Clint Bowyer at Richard Childress Racing may be in doubt. Bowyer, who doesn’t have a contract beyond this year, said on Saturday that has begun fielding offers from other teams. ... IndyCar boss Randy Bernard said this weekend even in the face of numerous flagrant mistakes, he supports Brain Bernhart. Bernhart is the race control chief who botched the re-start two weeks ago at New Hampshire.
Nuts and bolts
NASCAR Sprint Cup
Brad Keselowski won his third race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway virtually guaranteeing him a spot in the Chase for the Championship ... Keselowski waited until the final re-start to take the lead in the Irwin Tools Night Race in the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge ... Martin Truex Jr. ran second, followed by Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray ... Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, polesitter Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top 10.
Sebastian Vettel claimed his seventh victory of the 2011 Formula One world championship season for Red Bull by winning the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps ... Mark Webber finished second making it a 1-2 for Red Bull ... Jenson Button drove from a 13th starting spot to third for McLaren while teammate Lewis Hamilton was knocked out of the race by Sauber’s Kamui Kobayashi ... Fernando Alonso was fourth for Ferrari with Michael Schumacher fifth in a Mercedes.
IZOD IndyCar Series
They started the IZOD Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma 1-2-3 and the Penske Racing trio of Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe finished that way Sunday at California’s Infineon Raceway ... It was the first sweep of the podium by Penske this season ... It also kept Power within striking distance of championship leader Dario Franchitti who finished fourth for Chip Ganassi Racing ... Franchitti’s Ganaasi teammate Scott Dixon finished fifth ... Giorgio Pantano, Sebastien Bourdais, Canada’s James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal and EJ Viso rounded out the top 10 ... The other Canadian in the race, Montreal’s Alex Tagliani, finished a lap down in 20th place ... Danica Patrick, who announced this week she will race NASCAR full tine next season, finished 21st.