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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."




Related Pictures

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Joey Logano, driver of the #20 Dollar General Toyota, races Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Toyota, and Ryan Newman, driver of the #39 Tornados Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday in Sparta, Ky. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday in Sparta, Ky. (Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday in Sparta, Ky. (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS stops in the pits on his way to his win Sunday, March 1, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS races to victory Sunday, March 1, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Garry Eller/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS celebrates his victory with a burnout Sunday, March 1, 2015 after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet SS celebrates his victory Sunday, March 1, 2015 after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by HHP/Harold Hinson for Chevy Racing)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, leads the field during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, lead the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 1, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmie John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet, suffers a mechanical issue during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 28, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, leads the field past the green flag to start the NASCAR XFINITY Series Hisense 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 28, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeffrey Earnhardt, driver of the #55 Fronius USA/Viva Auto Group Chevrolet, spins out during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Hisense 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 28, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Discount Tire Ford, soc during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Hisense 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 27, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia.  (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Jimmie John`s/Budweiser Chevrolet, prepares to drive during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 27, 2015 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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