Roger Penske’s team put on an old-school butt-whipping Saturday night, as Brad Keselowski utterly crushed the field in winning the Quaker State 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway.
Keselowski led 199 laps on a hot and humid night, easily passing Kyle Busch with 19 laps to go to win convincingly on a night when his Team Penske Ford was pretty much in its own zip code all race long.
And the 2012 Sprint Cup champ made it clear afterwards that he is aiming at a second title. "I really want another championship," said Keselowski. "And I think this team is — we’re getting close to that position if we keep running like this."
Busch held on to second in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, with Ryan Newman posting a season’s-best third place finish in his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed the top five.
Keselowski’s second victory of the season and 12th of his career made him the sixth driver to officially lock himself into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. It was the fourth victory of the season for Team Penske, second only to the six won by Hendrick Motorsports. And Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano made it look like child’s play, leading 236 of 267 laps at the 1.5-mile Kentucky track.
"It’s just an incredible feeling to have a car this fast," said Keselowski. "I hope we can keep them this fast."
Runner-up Busch, the only driver other than the Penske teammates to lead a lap, gave it his best shot but came up short. "The most competitive we’ve been," said Busch, who had struggled in recent weeks. "And we’ll see how we can keep the speed going on."
For Newman, there were big smiles for his first top-five finish of the entire season.
"It’s a big gain for us," said Newman. "… It was a good run. The 2 (Keselowski) was obviously the fastest car all night."
But the night obviously belonged to the Penske gang.
Keselowski and Logano started on the pole and took off like a shot at the drop of the green flag ahead of Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.
Hamlin was running third when he appeared to cut a tire on Lap 29 and went hard into the Turn 4 SAFER barrier.
Keselowski led the first 78 laps before surrendering the point to Logano on pit road during a caution after Kyle Larson blew a right-front tire and pancaked the Turn 1 wall. But Keselowski was back out front by Lap 87, rapidly pulling away from his teammate.
A debris caution handed the lead back to Logano and at the halfway point, he led Keselowski, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Harvick and Earnhardt. The big loser on that round of stops was Jeff Gordon, who fell from seventh to 24th after an air-gun malfunction on his stop.
Keselowski went past Logano again on Lap 147, the Penske teammates having led every lap up to that point. Then, after a caution for an Alex Bowman spin, once again Logano went back to the point. And once again, Keselowski passed Logano for the lead on Lap 163.
David Stremme spun out on Lap 176, with Keselowski, Logano and seven others staying out, while most of the other lead-lap cars pitted. Logano briefly took the lead when the track went green on Lap 182, but three laps later, Keselowski passed him another time.
Then, drama on Lap 213.
Just as Kyle Busch, Danica Patrick, and Newman pitted, Aric Almirola hit the wall to bring out a caution.
When the leaders pitted on Lap 216, those who had pitted seconds before stayed out. And so for the first time on the night, a non-Penske car led, as Busch was out front ahead of Newman, Earnhardt, Paul Menard, Matt Kenseth and Keselowski.
Suddenly, what looked like an easy victory was in doubt.
"It was kind of one of those races where the whole race, you just know you’ve got a really fast race car," said Keselowski. "And my Miller Lite Ford Fusion was hauling the mail. And you’re just waiting for something to go wrong and it did there on that last yellow. It just caught us out of sequence."
The track went green on Lap 220, and within a lap, Keselowski was up to third, with Logano quickly moving from 10th to fourth.
Keselowski took second place from Newman on Lap 228, with Busch 2.427 seconds ahead in the lead.
By Lap 235, Keselowski had cut the margin to 1.434 seconds and was gaining rapidly.
Three laps later, Busch’s lead was down to 0.955 seconds and it seemed only a matter of time before Keselowski caught him.
Then, with 22 laps left, Logano started reporting his engine was blowing up, although he managed to nurse it to the end for a ninth-place finish.
Finally, with 19 laps left, Keselowski ran down Busch and passed him for the lead. And that was all she wrote, as Keselowski cruised to an easy victory.