1 July 2012
Keselowski turns up the heat with third win
Jimmie Johnson hit problems after the green came out again, losing a lot of ground fearing that he must be having a tyre going down on him: "I really think that on that restart I got in some oil or the track was still slick from that stay dry being down," he mused later with the benefit of hindsight. "I got loose a couple of times, lost a bunch of track position.
"From there I really think it was just track position deal," he explained, of why the #48 suddenly seemed to lack the pace it had shown all weekend up to that point. "I think that they have taken a lot of downforce out of the cars with the new rules. You just get to a spot and stall out ... Certainly up front in clean air that thing was blistering fast [but] I got back in traffic and just couldn't go anywhere."
That left Keselowski at the front ahead of Denny Hamlin, with Carl Edwards initially in third place but having to drive under a severe fuel conservation strategy that made him easy prey for Kasey Kahne to pass on lap 258 and complete his own recovery from that early unscheduled pit stop. In fact, Kahne's pace was so ferocious now compared to those around him that four laps later he slid under a conservative Hamlin for second place as well with just five laps to go until the finish.
"We got a lap behind there with the loose right front, and then we had another slow stop later," said Kahne. "But my car was fast, and I think the longer the run went, the better we seemed to get - the better I could move around on the racetrack, anyways.
"I had to run the bottom, and as soon as I'd get off the bottom I'd just slide, a four wheel slide," he recalled. "I couldn't make it work. I kept trying outside, but later on I was able to make a little speed on the outside corners, both ends, and could still run the bottom pretty well. But for probably the first half of the run, I had to be on the bottom."
Kahne did what he could and closed Keselowski's margin at the front to under four seconds, but it was too late. Without the opportunity of a late caution or a green-white-chequered finish, Keselowski had it in the back and duly crossed the finish line in first place ahead of Kahne and Hamlin after nearly three hours of superheated racing.
"We had to pass a ton of cars and came up a little short, but the team was awesome," said Kahne. "It would have been great to win in the Quaker State car."
Although he described losing a place near the end as "kind of anticlimactic", Hamlin was clearly feeling happy enough - not just with a hard-won third place but also with having locked down his immediate future at JGR. "When you know you're locked in and know where you're going to race for a really long time ... it's a good feeling," he said.
Edwards' aggressive fuel-saving strategy ultimately backfired and saw him drop to 20th place a lap down after a splash-and-dash four laps from the end.
"I am definitely frustrated with how it played out," said Edwards, revealing that the fuel strategy had actually been an accident in the first place when the all to come in from crew chief Bob Osborne came too late. "Bob called me onto pit road. He knew we should have pitted that last time, but I was already so far around that [pit entry] cone that I just didn't feel right cutting across traffic and slamming the splitter down to make it to pit road."
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
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