Stock cars aren’t equipped with fuel gauges. That’s what made what Brad Keselowski accomplished Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway so impressive.
In winning the Quaker State 400 on the speedway’s recently repaved track, Keselowski managed to nurse his No. 2 Ford over the finish line on fumes, barely ahead of Carl Edwards and Ryan Newman.
Keselowski’s gas tank was so empty that he couldn’t perform a celebratory burnout; his car had to be pushed to victory lane by a safety truck.
And although crew chief Paul Wolfe bragged on Keselowski, saying he is “one of the best in the business at saving fuel,” the driver wasn’t so sure.
“I thought I was out,” said Keselowski. “I did not think I was going to win the race based on what I felt in the car.”
Keselowski had an uneasy feeling about his fuel situation after he took the lead from Kevin Harvick after a restart on Lap 262. Fortunately for him, most of his competitors would have the same problem.
“With about 20 or 30 (laps) to go, I thought, I’m going to be in trouble here,” Keselowski said. “And I was probably not going to be able to hold off (Martin Truex Jr. and Matt Kenseth). I knew we were way short of being able to make it, so I got as aggressive as I could, and somehow we made it. I’m not even sure you can really say we made it because we ran out with about two to go. By running out, I mean it stumbled really, really bad, and I was able to just somehow limp it around the last two laps and stay ahead of Carl and bring her home.”
Edwards, who was also worried about fuel, had closed the gap on the slow-going Keselowski. After both cars took the white flag, Edwards made a run on Keselowski, who had enough left to punch the accelerator and fend Edwards off.
We’ve known as an industry that the repaves are very, very difficult historically.
“Yeah, I thought he was out of fuel, and he wasn’t,” Edwards said. “He played it perfectly. He let me get to him and then stood on it. We had a shot at it, we just weren’t able to do it. Saved a little too much.”
Keselowski admitted he didn’t have the strongest car. Harvick, who led a race-high 128 laps, and Matt Kenseth both had to stop for gas near the end. And Martin Truex Jr., who led 46 laps, was penalized for passing on pit road, eventually derailing his chances.
The victory was significant for Keselowski. It was his second in a row and fourth of the season. Even more importantly, he clinched a spot in the Chase because he can’t finish lower than 30th in the points standings.
The fuel-mileage drama at the end made what happened earlier in the race seem a distant memory. A track-record 11 caution flags were waved – seven of them before the race was half over -- due mostly to the combination of the repave and an aero package test that included a lower downforce setup that’s already been put in place for this season.
Keselowski clinched a spot in the Chase with his victory.
Many of the wrecks came in Turn 3, where the track’s grading had been increased.
“We’ve known as an industry that the repaves are very, very difficult historically,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice resident of competition. “This was no different. It was a little dicey getting down there in Turn 3 on the restarts especially.
“The low, low downforce package, if that’s what we’re calling it now, helped at this race on the repave. I think the corner speeds would have been extremely high (without it).”
Said Keselowski: “It won me the race. Without the lower, lower downforce package, I don’t think I would have won the race. I would have never made the move I made on (Harvick), and that would have been it.
“There were certainly moves you could make that you couldn’t make before with respect to getting behind somebody and being able to alter the way their car drove, and that’s a part of being a race car driver. That’s a part of this package.”
All the accidents had an impact on the race for the Chase. Rookies Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott wrecked in Turn 3, and the resultant 35th-place finish for Blaney knocked him down to 18th in the standings. Jamie McMurray’s solid seventh-place finish moved him up one spot to 15th, inside the Chase bubble.