TORONTO - If ever there was any doubt that Brad Keselowski could pull off a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship run it was erased on Sunday afternoon at Dover International Speedway.
While five time-champion Jimmie Johnson was forced into a brutal fuel-saving mode over the final 79 laps, Keselowski and the No. 2 Penske Dodge team were able to race hard and at the same time manage their fuel.
What makes his win so much more impressive was that Keselowski did not have the most dominant car on this day.
In fact, for most of the race it took all he could do to stay with the top five cars.
Kyle Busch, who led 267 of the 400-lap race, had the best car, but not the best fuel mileage and with seven laps to go he was forced to bring in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for a splash of gas, as did his teammate Denny Hamlin in the No. 11 JGR Toyota.
All the while Keselowski was putting pressure on Johnson in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet knowing they were running low on petrol.
Four-time champion Jeff Gordon, in the No. 24 HMS Chevrolet, made a late run at Keselowski but ran out of laps.
There will be some out there who will feel that Keselowski won the race by default, in that three better cars — the No. 18, the No. 48 and the No. 11 — all had fuel-mileage issues.
The No. 2 Dodge team, however, was just able to get more out of their car than the rest and that is what championships are made of in NASCAR.
Remember last season it was Tony Stewart who won two of the first three Chase for the Championship races on his way to his third title.
Now Keselowski has won two of the first three — he won the opener at Chicagoland — and goes from being an outsider to a favourite in a hurry.
In as much as Keselowski was able to go the top of the leader board with his run at Dover, several other Chase drivers were hit with big point deficits, including the aforementioned Stewart who finished 20th, three laps down, to fall 32 points behind the leader.
Matt Kenseth all but kissed his Cup chances goodbye when the track bar on his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford broke, leaving him 35th on Sunday and last in the Chase.
His teammate Greg Biffle had another bad outing as well, with a botched pit stop that put him a lap down early from which could not recover. He finished 16th and dropped to 11th in the points parade.
Johnson’s fourth-place finish kept him within spitting distance — five points — of the new leader but it also shone a light on one of the very few chinks in the No. 48 team’s armour — fuel-mileage racing.
He and crew chief Chad Knaus will have to fix that if they want that sixth championship trophy.
In the American Le Mans Series season finale at Lime Rock, Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas finished seventh in the No. 1 BMW Riley giving Ganassi Racing its third consecutive DP title. It was Pruett’s fifth and Rojas’ fourth, DP title overall. In the GT class Canada’s AIM Autosport won the championship with Jeff Segal and Emil Assentato in the No. 69 FXDD Ferrari 458 Italia . ... Montreal’s Bruno Spengler finished sixth in the DTM race driving the Schnitzer BMW at the Valencia Circuit but cut his point differential behind Gary Paffett to just three points with only the final race at Hockenheim remaining. Toronto’s Robert Wickens crashed his Mucke Mercedes only three laps into that race ... In Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series OneMain Financial 200, Joey Logano took home the in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota ... And Nelson Piquet Jr. made a last-lap pass Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to win the Smith’s 350 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race ... The Charlotte Observer is reporting that Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal will host a Nationwide race again in 2013 on Aug. 17.
NUTS AND BOLTS
Brad Keselowski was able to save gas while all others were running low on Sunday in the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.
As a result he took the checkered flag and the top spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship in the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge.
It was Keselowski’s second win in the first three of the 10-race Chase and he credited the Penske engine builders for his win.
“The Penske team has done a phenomenal job with these Dodge engines,” he said.
The irony was not lost in that Penske will switch to Fords and Roush engines next season, closing down their engine shop.
Keselowski got the lead when Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, who were running one-two, pitted for fuel with less than 10 laps to go.
Keselowski then out-raced Jeff Gordon, beating him by 1.078 at the finish line.
It was Keselowski’s fifth win of the season and the ninth of his career.
“We were able to manage our fuel better than the other guys,” Keselowski said. “We hung around in that top five and when you can do that you put yourself in a position to win.”
Mark Martin finished third in the No. 55 Toyota, followed by Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Chevrolet with Carl Edwards rounding out the top five in the No. 99 Ford.
Johnson held a one-point lead over Keselowski in the Chase standings at the start of the race but left with a five-point deficit.