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Keselowski wins on fuel at Dover

Brad Keselowski won the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway - his second victory in three Chase races - by managing to make his fuel last longer than Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin.
If there was any fairness in motor racing, then arguably one of the Joe Gibbs Racing cars should have been celebrating in victory lane at Dover International Speedway at the end of the AAA 400 on Sunday afternoon, the third of the ten races in the 2012 Chase.

After all, Denny Hamlin had claimed pole position at Dover for the first time in his career and led the first 34 laps, and thereafter was never out of the top three until ten laps from the end of the race. And his team mate Kyle Busch had been the man to pass him for the lead, and then kept it for a total of 302 of the 400 laps of the race.

Both JGR cars had gambled on tuning their engines for speed rather than fuel efficiency, and in the end this bit them after a long race with only five cautions for a total of 28 laps left them just short on fuel. By the time the pair had come in for a splash-and-dash ten laps from the end, they were left a lap off the leaders who were leaning it out just enough to get to the chequered flag.

In the end, the driver with the best balance of pace and fuel conservation proved to be Penske Racing's Brad Keselowski, who made his tank of gas last an impressive 79 laps to the finish without giving up quite as much speed as some of the others trying the same strategy. It's the first time he's even finished in the top ten at Dover.

"I may not have had the best car, but I hung around in that top five, just creeping around - and when you do that, you put yourself in position for good things to happen," he said in victory lane afterwards. "It wasn't easy. The Dodge team and Penske have done an incredible job with these engines with power and fuel balance to go faster."

He wouldn't divulge just how much fuel there had been left in the tank by the end, and how close the team had pushed it to the limit.

Pursuing Keselowski to the line had been the hard-charging Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, who had been among the last to top-up their fuel under the final caution of the afternoon on lap 317 for a spin by Matt Kenseth after his rear suspension broke. The other drivers had pitted under the previous caution just a few minutes earlier and hadn't felt the need to return to pit road so soon, but that call proved crucial in the end.

Jimmie Johnson had been one of those to stay out under that final caution, and he made it to the finish line only by leaning off the fuel as much as possible even though it put him well down on speed in the final laps. That cost him a shot at the win and he had to settle for fourth place after he was passed at the end by Gordon and Martin, who had no equivalent imminent concerns about fuel.

"We're not very good at fuel mileage races," admitted Johnson, who has seven previous race wins at Dover on his resumé. "When I heard that, I'm like: 'Man, we're in big trouble.' He asked me to start saving fuel, and I doubled the distance out of the gate just to make sure that I did enough to get us to the end.


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