After 10 years and 62 starts, Brad Keselowski earned his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory Thursday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Keselowski battled Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates Kyle Busch and Darrell Wallace Jr. for the win after rain pushed the start back from Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
Leading 177 of the 200 laps, Keselowski had to hold off the hard-charging KBM trucks, as well as navigate thick lapped traffic throughout the entire race.
Getting his start in the Camping World Truck Series, the victory was a sense of relief for the team owner and former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.
"It means a lot as a driver, and I don’t want to understate that," Keselowski said in Victory Lane. "My family … has been a part of this series since its inception. I feel like I have too, whether it was a kid watching, and now as a team owner and a driver. I got my start in the series. I ran my family bankrupt in this series trying to make it. Caught some other breaks to make it to the Cup Series, and had all the success in the Cup and Nationwide level, but never here. In part it’s because I did it the hard way trying to do it myself … We’re hear and I’m proud of each and every one of the crew that got me there."
During post-race inspection, NASCAR determined Keselowski’s race-winning truck was too high in the rear spoiler — along with the trucks of Ron Hornaday Jr. and Cole Custer. NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp indicated the issue would be further discussed early next week.
Finishing second, Wallace Jr. earned his third runner-up finish of the season. Getting to the back bumper of Keselowski’s truck, he knew he could move him if he wanted, but said he had more respect than that.
"I’m trying to make a name for myself," he said. "I might have got some cheers, but I think I would have gotten more boos if went out and wrecked him. I race everybody with respect; at least I try to. I’m sure I get talked about behind my back after the races, but everybody does. Just watching (Brad) throughout the sport and all he’s done, winning a championship a few years back. That was pretty cool. Just racing with him. He comes up and jumps on pit wall — and I didn’t know who it was at first — he over there talking about how the condition of the track was in practice yesterday, says something funny and walks off. That’s just Brad.
"You don’t get much time around those guys, but when you do, you have to be ready to go work on them and beat them," he said.
For much of the race, it appeared Keselowski would have to deal with both Kyle Busch Motorsports trucks in the final laps.
As Keselowski and Wallace Jr. worked through that lapped traffic in the closing laps, Busch was able to make his way to the back bumper of his teammate. However, with just 22 laps to go, Busch’s right rear tire gave out and the No. 51 Toyota tagged the outside wall.
With no caution, Busch was forced to pit road and his chances at a fifth Bristol win went away, as he ended the day 24th, six laps down.
Keselowski’s battle with the KBM trucks was fierce from the drop of the green flag, as he wasted no time making his way to the front from his fourth starting spot.
With Busch starting on the pole, the pair racing hard for the lead in the opening laps, with Keselowski getting the advantage as they worked through heavy lap traffic.
Busch was able to win the race off pit road on the first stop of the day during the competition caution on Lap 50. On the ensuing restart, Keselowski and Busch picked up where they left off, battling side-by-side for the lead lap after lap.
Busch was able to hold the lead on the restart with 82 laps to go, but a bobble by the No. 51 Toyota allowed the No. 19 of Keselowski to get by on the bottom on Lap 125.
On the final restart of the day with 48 laps to go, Keselowski was able to hold on to the lead while Darrell Wallace Jr. was able to take second from team owner Kyle Busch.
Wallace Jr. scored his third runner-up finish of the year, followed by Ron Hornaday Jr., Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter, John Nemechek, Joey Coulter, Cole Custer, Ben Rhodes and Corey Lajoie.
John Wes Townley’s first start since suffering an injury during ARCA qualifying at Pocono Raceway did not go as well as planned. Racing hard with rookie Gray Gaulding for a number of laps, Townley bobbled under Gaulding’s No. 20 Chevrolet. Trying to hang on, Townley’s No. 05 Toyota got into Gaulding and collected Brennan Newberry, before coming back down the track and hitting Brandon Jones and Justin Boston.
After struggling in Wednesday’s qualifying session, Timothy Peters started Thursday’s race at the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments. Working his way up to 25th in the opening laps, Peters was caught up in the race’s first incident on Lap 16, when Brian Silas and Jake Crum wrecked going into Turn 1. With nowhere to go, Peters drove right into the wreck and was forced to pit to repair the damage.
Finishing fifth on the day, Michigan winner Johnny Sauter was able to maintain his points lead over ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton. Ron Hornaday Jr., Ryan Blaney and Darrell Wallace Jr. round out the top five in the series standings.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to action at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park on Aug. 31.