SPARTA, KY. — Brad Keselowski stretched his fuel Saturday at Kentucky Speedway and pulled away to win the Quaker State 400 in a backup car.
Driving his third race in as many sultry nights at the 1.5-mile track, Keselowski showed no signs of fatigue by taking his No. 2 Dodge to victory lane for a Sprint Cup Series-leading third time this season.
“I’m great. I feel good,” Keselowski said. “I’m going to sleep in tomorrow, but I would’ve done that either way.”
Keselowski and his Penske Racing team pulled their backup car off the truck Friday after Keselowski hit the wall during practice. He qualified eighth and showed in the early going Saturday that he had a car capable of running up front.
Keselowski ran the final 59 laps on one tank of fuel and led the final 56.
“It just shows the importance of teamwork and the group of guys that I have ... ,” he said. “They put together a backup car from last year in 100-degree heat in an hour’s time. Not even an hour, I think it was like 40 minutes. I wish I had a stopwatch for that.”
Kasey Kahne finished second in the No. 5 Chevrolet and Denny Hamlin, who announced via Twitter before the race that he had signed a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing to continue driving the No. 11 Toyota, finished third.
Kahne said he just hoped the leader would run out of gas in the closing laps.
“There was no way I was catching him,” said Kahne, who finished 4.399 seconds back. “We pitted, so we had enough gas to run as hard as I could all the way to the finish. I was hoping his would shut off off of (Turn 2) or something.”
Keselowski kept a busy schedule during Kentucky Speedway’s second-ever Sprint Cup Series weekend, finishing second in the Camping World Truck Series race Thursday and seventh in the Nationwide Series race Friday. He won the track’s Nationwide Series race last season.
Saturday’s final green-flag run was set up by a caution on Lap 210. Ryan Newman backed into the Turn 2 wall after the engine in his No. 39 Chevrolet blew.
Keselowski had pitted two laps earlier, and the question became who could stretch their fuel to the end of the race. The yellow-flag laps and Penske Racing’s fuel-economy helped Keselowski’s cause.
The race went green again on Lap 219 with Keselowski in front. Hamlin was second followed by points leader Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished fourth in the No. 88 Chevrolet. Kenseth finished seventh behind Jeff Gordon and pole-sitter Jimmie Johnson.
Saturday’s race at the Speedway Motorsports Inc.-owned track in Gallatin County looked a lot like last year’s with extended green-flag runs putting a premium on pit stops and strategy, lots of Kyle Busch running out front, and a handful of cautions.
Hamlin, who led 58 laps, called on Goodyear to bring a softer tire next year.
“So it falls off, so there’s more passing,” he said. “Right now, during green-flag runs, you catch someone and it’s very, very hard (to pass). ... I talked to Goodyear and they said they were probably going to change it coming back. So should have some better racing when we come back here.”
As expected, attendance for the speedway’s second Sprint Cup race was down. Empty seats were plainly visible around the edges of the grandstands and in the Ohio and Kentucky Towers. According to the box score, an estimated crowd of 105,000 attended, down only 2,000 from last year’s estimate.
The first lap Saturday was led by the same driver who led the last one in the same race in 2011. Busch led the first 33 laps before he was passed by Keselowski on Lap 34. Keselowski led three times in all for 68 laps.
With the end of NASCAR’s “regular season” approaching, a visit to Kentucky Speedway was viewed as just what Busch needed to stop a run of four consecutive subpar finishes that had dropped him four spots in the standings (to 12th).
He dominated the first half of the race, but his car was never the same after slapping the wall while running out front on Lap 118. Busch led five times for a race-high 118 laps and finished 18th.
Three-time and defending Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart finished 36 laps down in 32nd place.