For whatever reason, Brad Keselowski and Kentucky Speedway go hand-in-hand.
For just the second time, the Sprint Cup Series traveled to Kentucky to take on the Quaker State 400. Kyle Busch was immediately announced as the favorite, as he won the inaugural event last season.
Throughout the 267-lap event, there were four drivers that clearly had dominant cars—the aforementioned Busch, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson.
Keselowski, Hamlin and Johnson had already recorded two wins each thus far, while Busch won earlier this year at Richmond.
Tony Stewart, the other two-time winner in 2012, had some serious problems in the very beginning of the race. Because of the issues, Stewart took his No. 14 to the garage. He would come back later on in the race, but was too many laps to contend for the win. The driver affectionately known as "Smoke" finished the race in a very disappointing 32nd.
In the three races prior to tonight's race, Stewart had posted three consecutive top-three finishes. But, it just wasn't his night, nor Stewart-Haas Racing's in general.
Ryan Newman, Stewart's teammate, struggled from the drop of the green flag. Starting in fifth, Newman immediately plummeted down the charts and was soon in the mid-teens.
During the middle of the race, Newman rear-ended Joey Logano's No. 20 on the frontstretch. This caused Logano to get exceedingly loose, as he went down the track and side-swiped Clint Bowyer, last week's winner at Sonoma.
Bowyer and Logano suffered damage to their cars and both drivers finished 16th and 22nd, respectively.
However, the night wasn't over for Newman's No. 39.
On Lap 208, Newman apparently got in some oil in the middle of Turns 1 and 2 and slammed into the outside retaining wall. Regan Smith was also caught up in the mess. Both drivers took their cars back into the garage, while Smith finished 33rd and Newman came home in 34th.
Kasey Kahne definitely had the most interesting night of any of the drivers.
After making an unscheduled pit stop early in the race, Kahne looked due for another disappointing finish since taking the checkered flag at Charlotte's Coca-Cola 600. However, Kahne managed to capture the Aaron's Lucky Dog and work his way up through the pack.
Late in the race, Kahne's No. 5 Quaker State Chevrolet seemingly passed cars like they were standing still. Kahne just blew past every driver he caught up to, but it was too late to catch up to Keselowski's No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge.
Kahne was able to pass Denny Hamlin and others late in the race to finish the race in second, but still 4.399 seconds behind Saturday night's winner, Keselowski.
For a while, Jimmie Johnson had a very strong car and seemed poised to win his third race of the season.
Unfortunately for the five-time champion, he feared that he had a tire going down late in the race. After the thought initially crossed his head, Johnson had lost six enormous seconds to the leader. However, it turned out that Johnson just had some debris stuck to his tire, not a soon-to-be flat tire.
By the time Johnson was able to figure all of it out, he was too far behind to catch up to the leader. Johnson still managed to salvage the race, as he finished sixth.
It was also an interesting night for Kyle Busch, who was undoubtedly the favorite heading into Saturday night's festivities. Busch's car was blazing fast at the very beginning of the race, as he powered by Jimmie Johnson once they took the green flag.
However, Busch's car would go through a multitude of problems later in the race. Soon, Busch's No. 18 would be out of contention for his second straight Kentucky win. Busch was still able to fight back through the pack because of some great adjustments and finished the race in 10th.
Busch really needed a good finish, as he has struggled over the last four weeks. As of right now, Busch is currently holding down one of the highly-coveted wild-card spots. There is no doubt that he will need to keep up those solid finishes over the next few weeks if he wants to remain in the hunt for the Chase.
Early in the race, it appeared to be Busch's night. But at the end of the 267 laps, it was Keselowski's night.
With the win, Keselowki became the first driver of 2012 to reach three wins. The aforementioned Stewart, Hamlin and Johnson all have two wins apiece.
Once the race started, Keselowski was participating in his third event in three nights.
The driver of the Blue Deuce competed in the 225-mile Truck Series race on Thurday night, while finishing second behind race-winner James Buescher. The following night, Keselowski drove his No. 22 Discount Auto Tire Dodge in the 300-mile Nationwide event and came home seventh—Austin Dillon eventually won the race in dominating fashion, the first win of his Nationwide career.
There's no doubt that the experience at the track helped Keselowski for Saturday night's race. While drivers like Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch and others had only participated in practice and qualifying sessions, Keselowski already had 525 miles under his belt in two days at the track.
Keselowski desperately needed a good finish on Saturday night. Prior to the 400-mile event, the driver of the No. 2 failed to crack the top 10 in the previous four events.
The amazing thing about Keselowski on Saturday night was that he managed to do all of it in a backup car. During a practice session a few days ago, Keselowski got into it with Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the No. 42 Target machine. Keselowski clipped the right side of Montoya's car, which sent him into the outside retaining wall.
Because of that, Keselowki was issued a backup car. Not only that, but it's the car he raced at the second Martinsville race last season. The car he ran tonight was one of the oldest cars in the field, if not the oldest. Not only that, but there's a major difference between Kentucky, a 1.5-mile track and Martinsville, one of the shortest tracks on the entire circuit.
Keselowski inherited the lead with 55 laps remaining and of course, he never relinquished the top spot. With the win, Keselowski has practically guaranteed himself a spot in the Chase.
With Keselowski and Kahne finishing in the top two spots, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top five.
Jimmie Johnson finished the race in sixth, successfully putting all four Hendrick cars in the top six positions. Matt Kenseth finished seventh, while Martin Truex Jr., A.J. Allmendinger and Kyle Busch completed the top 10.
Additionally, some of the other notable finishers include: Kevin Harvick (11th), Jamie McMurray (15th), Bowyer (16th), Kurt Busch (19th), Carl Edwards (20th), Greg Biffle (21st), Joey Logano (22nd), Michael Waltrip (30th), Tony Stewart (32nd) and Ryan Newman (34th).
The Sprint Cup Series, along with the Nationwide Series, will head to Daytona next weekend to take on the famous track for the second time in the 2012 season.
David Ragan shocked the field last season, as he was able to capture the checkered flag at Daytona for the first win of his career. Of course, he was piloting the No. 6 UPS Ford for Roush-Fenway Racing and he may not be able to win the 400-mile event for a second time, as he will be participating in the No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports, a quite mediocre ride.
Regardless, anything can happen at Daytona, as evidenced by Trevor Bayne's improbable win at the 2011 Daytona 500. Ragan's win last year is almost just as implausible, as it remains as his first and only Sprint Cup victory.
The last time the series traveled to Daytona was for the season-opening 500-mile event. Matt Kenseth was able to capture the checkered flag for his second Daytona 500 win—he won the race in 2009.
Kenseth will likely have another strong race next Saturday night, as well. But of course, Daytona is a crapshoot and anything can happen.
There is one thing that is guaranteed, however: it will be a fun race to watch. The green flag will drop around 7:30 on TNT next Saturday night.
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