Brad Keselowski took his final lead on the 156th lap and went on to a rain-shortened victory Friday night in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Kentucky Speedway.
Showers halted the race at lap 170 in the scheduled 200-lap, 300-mile event, but drivers were expecting it to resume before another pocket of rain forced officials to call it off. Keselowski settled for doing victory spinouts, being careful to avoid sliding into the wall on a night mostly spent on firm footing.
After Keselowski finished second Thursday night in the Truck Series race, the Sprint Cup champion led four times for 59 laps en route to his second victory of the year and second at the track in three years. Elliott Sadler was second, followed by Truck Series points leader Matt Crafton, Brian Vickers and Kyle Busch.
Series points leader Regan Smith saw his 28-point advantage over Justin Allgaier coming in whacked to an eight-point edge over Sam Hornish Jr. after an engine problem that forced him behind the wall and left him 30th, 17 laps down.
The night mostly belonged to Busch and eventually Keselowski, who has a chance to add another trophy if he can win Saturday night’s 400-mile Cup race. If his first two races and Friday night in particular are any indication, he’s certainly the driver to beat.
Starting 19th, Keselowski quickly moved the No. 22 Ford into contention to make it a battle between him and Busch on a tripleheader weekend for both. Running in the top five on lap 150, Keselowski eventually got by Sadler for the lead before the sky opened up.
"You know, I didn’t want it to end this way but we had a great car and we were able to drive to the front," said Keselowski, who set a track record with his fifth top-five Nationwide finish. "We didn’t qualify like we wanted to but (crew chief) Jeremy Bullins and this team did a great job.
"It was just a great car tonight. This is the type of car you get once a year if you are lucky. Driving this car I feel like Jimmie Johnson, this is a rocket."
Busch led three times for a race-high 74 laps, mostly before the halfway point. The race featured 12 lead changes among seven drivers.
One of the team was defending race winner Austin Dillon, whose quest was keeping the family name in victory lane for the third straight time at Kentucky. The grandson of NASCAR team owner Richard Childress dominated here a year ago, leading 192 laps while averaging a race-record 151.643 in a Chevy sporting RCR’s iconic No. 3 made famous by seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt.
Dillon led 65 last September to complete a season sweep here. If that wasn’t enough motivation for him to stay hot — not to mention, cutting into his 45-point deficit to first-place Smith — there was the opportunity to one-up his brother, Ty, who won Thursday night’s Truck race.
Dillon’s bid started well as he won the pole with a speed of 175.758 mph and he led the first 18 laps before yielding to Busch and eventually finishing sixth. As for the two Cup heavyweights, they seemed intent on a strong follow-up to their 2-3 finish in the Truck race.
Sadler and Crafton had their turns up front as well, but Keselowski carefully threaded his way back into the lead just before showers arrived, turning into a downpour soon after the race was called.
"As a racer, you always want to see a restart to get the opportunity to win the race," Sadler said. "But Brad and those guys definitely had a strong car. He got me loose when he was behind me and made a good pass."