SPARTA - Brad Keselowski spent most of the Quaker State 400 out front, but had to chase down and pass five cars before he could celebrate another victory at Kentucky Speedway.
He passed Kyle Busch for the lead with 20 laps remaining Saturday and pulled away to claim the Sprint Cup Series race for the second time in three years.
“It was kind of one of those races where the whole race you just know you’ve got a really fast car,” Keselowski said. “And my (car) was hauling the mail. You’re just waiting for something to wrong and it didn’t.”
It was a dominating performance from start to finish by the 2012 Sprint Cup champion.
He led 199 of 267 laps and becomes the sixth driver to win two or more Sprint Cup races this season. His other victory came at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a mile and a half track like Kentucky Speedway.
Saturday’s post-race celebration wasn’t all fun.
Keselowski cut his right hand on a champagne bottle and needed four stitches.
The bandage on his hand had been decorated with a NASCAR winner’s sticker by the time he started his post-race news conference.
“We should’ve stuck with beer,” joked Keselowski, whose No. 2 Team Penske Ford is sponsored by Miller Lite.
It was about the only thing that went wrong for him.
“It’s all good. I’m just glad we won,” he said. “It’s a lot better story when you win and get hurt.”
Keselowski and Team Penske cohort Joey Logano swept the front row in qualifying on Friday and combined to lead the first 216 laps Saturday.
Their runaway was interrupted when a caution came out one lap earlier.
It was a fortuitous break for Ryan Newman, Busch and Earnhardt. They had been running in the top five behind Keselowski and Logano when they ducked onto pit road for tires and fuel. The caution lights came on while their cars were being serviced.
Keselowski, Logano and the rest of the field made their pit stops under caution.
When the field cycled around, Busch was in the lead followed by Newman and Earnhardt. Paul Menard, who took two tires on his pit stop, was fourth. Keselowski was sixth. Logano was 10th.
The race restarted with 219 laps complete, and Keselowski began moving toward the front.
Keselowski radioed to his crew on Lap 239, “I can see him,” referring to Busch. Nine laps later, he was passing Busch in Turn 3 for the lead.
“We had a decent restart, but I didn’t think I was going to catch Kyle,” Keselowski said. “The car was that great.”
Busch missed earning his second Quaker State 400 victory by 1.014 seconds, the gap between his car and Keselowski’s at the end. It ended a streak of disappointing finishes for the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Busch had finished 25th or worse in three of the four Sprint Cup races before Kentucky.
“We haven’t been great this year,so this is certainly a step in the right direction,” said Busch, who led 31 laps. “Feels nice to have a solid run, lead some laps, and although we faded at the end, we gave it a valiant effort.”
The third place finish by Newman marked his first top-five this season. The driver of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet ran in the top 10 all race.
“We had some really good pit stops, gained some track position there, caught a little bit of a break when the caution came out there when we were on pit road,” Newman said. “Just a good, solid night.”
Matt Kenseth finished fourth behind Newman. Earnhardt finished fifth.
Four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon hoped to check Kentucky Speedway off as the only track on the Sprint Cup schedule where he hasn’t won a race.
An air gun failure on his third pit stop lengthened the odds of it happening. He dropped from seventh to restarting 23rd when the race went back to green on Lap 131. He rebounded to finish sixth in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and leads the points standings by 24 over teammate Jimmie Johnson.
“We have a really good car and a really good team,” Gordon said. “When we get down, we fight back. I’m proud of that, but I’m disappointed because I thought we were going to be better.”
Logano finished ninth and Johnson finished 10th.
Keselowski’s victory Saturday capped a busy three-day stretch that saw him finish fifth in the Camping World Truck Series race Thursday and second in the Nationwide Series race Friday.
“At the end of the day, we’re here to win Cup races and that’s where my main focus is,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think there’s anyone that can say I short-cut the big race to be better in the preliminaries and that’s probably a good thing.”
After Saturday’s victory, Keselowski is fourth in the points standings and focused on winning a second Sprint Cup title. His victory in the 2012 race at Kentucky helped springboard him to his first Sprint Cup title. He hopes it leads to similar results this year.
“I want to win another championship,” Keselowski said. “I don’t want to win just one. I think I have the team to do it. I have the owner to do it with Roger Penske. And the urgency is now.
“I don’t want win one championship and that be it for my career. I’m not going to be happy with that. I want to win another championship but I don’t want it to be five or 10 years from now. I don’t want to be a guy that contends for a championship every three or four years. I want to do it each and every year. I know that opportunity is here and it’s present and I want to make the most of it.”