BRISTOL – The blue deuce strikes again.
Brad Keselowski fought off Matt Kenseth and unseated Kyle Busch as the new Sprint Cup king of Bristol with a flawless second half Sunday afternoon run for the Food City 500 win at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The checkered flag marked the driver’s second-consecutive Cup win at the half-mile oval coming off last August’s night race conquest and gave team owner Roger Penske his 10th win at Bristol, all in the 2 car.
Keselowski, who used the absence of pit road timing lines to his advantage in his win last August, saw NASCAR add additional timing lines to Bristol this week as a response. Keselowski responded in his own way, leading…
“This car, as strong as it was, I’m sure there’s a rule that could be made, but I got on Twitter and I was a little (upset) at people who said I couldn’t win with the time line,” said Keselowski. “I knew this blue deuce was fast enough to win the race last fall with or without timing lines. It feels so good to prove it here today in the spring race.
“This car here, a brand new car, that Penske Racing built. Everybody back at the shop did a phenomenal job. I knew we had a shot at winning when we were running like we were, then we closed the deal. Matt didn’t make it easy.”
Keselowski took the lead from Brian Vickers on lap 216 and held onto the lead for a lengthy stretch before Kenseth took the lead.
A caution on lap 360 allowed Keselowski to take the advantage on a restart and the blue deuce fended off a serious charge from Kenseth that was broken up on lap 477 when reigning Cup champion and last week’s victor Tony Stewart made contact with the wall to bring out a yellow flag.
Keselowski pulled ahead on the final green flag and didn’t look back.
“(Kenseth) did a good job,” said Keselowski, who led four times for 232 laps. “He raced me hard and I raced him hard. That’s good racing and I don’t know why people are saying Bristol racing ain’t as good as it was. I think they might be right because it’s better than it’s ever been. This is one of the best races I think I’ve ever been a part of.
“They never see it from behind the seat. I’m thrilled to death to be in victory lane at Bristol again. One of my favorite places for sure. And if this team keeps performing like they are, we’ll get more.”
Kenseth, who finished second, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers rounded out the top five. Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmie Johnson and Paul Menard, respectively, held onto positions six through ten.
The race certainly didn’t lack for drama. A driver-spotter mistake created a big one that collected some of the track’s heavyweights just 22 laps in.
Kasey Kahne, who was cleared by his spotter, eased up onto Regan Smith along the front stretch. A contact and bump sent Kahne sideways and loose into turn one where Carl Edwards made contact and collected Marcus Ambrose, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick in a pileup.
“I think Regan was battling with that same thing we all battle with here which is should you let the guy go or keep racing him,” Edwards said. “Kasey probably thought he was clear and that ended up in a wreck. It is hard to put 43 cars on a half-mile going this fast and not wreck. It is too bad it happened this early.”
For Kahne, who had one of the fastest cars in the weekend’s practice sessions, it was his third accident in four races this season.
“We were going forward, just taking our time,” Kahne said. “Regan was pretty slow. I was under him for a couple of laps. When my spotter cleared me in the center, I just took off and he was there on exit.
“This is the worst way I could start a season. To have the fastest car every single week and something happens.”
A.J. Allmendinger was the beneficiary of the caution with a good pit stop, taking command of the field when green flag racing resumed. When the leaders got into traffic, Almendinger took a back seat to Brian Vickers, who trucked his way in front.
Vickers led through the 200-lap mark and didn’t face a serious challenge until Keselowski made a pass in turns three and four on lap 216.
Keselowski led through the first round of green flag pit stops and wasn’t challenged until a break in the action when David Stremme made contact with the wall with 163 laps remaining.
Kenseth took advantage of the pit stops and rolled to the front past Keselowski on the restart, but the field was reshuffled on lap 360 when the tail pipes on the right side of Dale Earnhardt Jr. cut into the left rear tire of Jeff Gordon on a slight touch along the back stretch, sending Gordon spinning into the wall between turns three and four.
It was a tough break for Gordon, who spent the bulk of the day in the top-five and challenged for the lead at one point.
“We bumped more than we should have,” Gordon said. “We definitely didn’t hit in the right location. We didn’t hit that hard. … I know that it wasn’t intentional, but it certainly ruined our day. There were times when we had the best car out there and I think we could’ve got there by the end of the day.”
Keselowski regained the lead on the following restart, passing Kenseth, and held off the charge of the 17 car through Stewart’s wreck. He faced little challenge from Kenseth from that point forward en route to the checkered flag.
NOTE: A follow-up feature and notebook on Sunday’s race will print in Tuesday’s Star.