As he completed the final lap of his victory in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Brad Keseloswki needled Paul Wolfe, his crew chief.
“Paul, are you nervous?” Keselowski radioed to Wolfe, his voice exuding of confidence. As he crossed the finish line six car-lengths in front of runner-up Matt Kenseth, Keselowski allowed himself an excited whoop.
The driver of the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge scored his second straight win at the .533-mile short track and the fifth of his NASCAR Sprint Cup career.
Martin Truex Jr. came home third, followed by Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers, as Michael Waltrip Racing drivers claimed positions three through five. Vickers scored the top-five in his first Cup action since his contract with Red Bull Racing ended last year.
Jeff Burton, Jamie McMurray, Juan Pablo Montoya, Jimmie Johnson and Paul Menard completed the top 10.
If Keselowski remained cool on the racetrack, criticism for his victory last August definitely made him hot and provided additional motivation for Sunday’s victory.
In last year’s night race, Wolfe picked a pit stall that would allow Keselowski to accelerate out of his pit and gain time and positions before the next timing line. To offset that advantage, NASCAR added two timing lines on each side of pit road for Sunday’s race, shortening the segments between lines.
When Keselowski heard critics say he won the race because of the timing line advantage, it irked him.
“I got on Twitter, and I got kind of PO’d at some people that said I won it because of the timing line,” Keselowski said. “I knew this Blue Deuce was fast enough to win the race last fall with or without timing lines. It feels so good just to prove it here in the spring race.
“This car here, this brand-new car that Penske Racing built — everybody back at the shop did a phenomenal job. The last few races have been really good, and I knew we had a shot at winning one if we closed the deal. Matt didn’t make it easy.”
Keselowski and Kenseth had run away from the rest of the field and were battling for the lead when Tony Stewart’s Chevrolet smacked the Turn 3 wall on Lap 478 to bring out the fifth caution of the race.
Unlike a restart earlier in the race, Keselowksi chose the outside lane for a restart on Lap 484 — after considerable discussion with Wolfe — and cleared Kenseth off the second corner. From there on, it was smooth sailing.
“Yeah, he screwed that up,” Kenseth joked about the lane choice. “He should have started on the bottom for me. Unfortunately, he didn’t. I don’t know. I couldn’t run on the bottom, and Brad was really strong on the bottom of (Turns) 1 and 2.
“I was thinking I could run outside of him (after the restart), but he would roll through there so fast you could never get a run on him. I think he liked the bottom of 1 and 2, but I could never get around on the bottom of 1 and 2, so that was the right thing to do, to start on the top and leave me on the bottom — for him.”
An early wreck wiped out several strong cars, including those of Kasey Kahne, Carl Edwards, Marcos Ambrose and Kyle Busch. Contact between the Chevrolets of Regan Smith and Kahne — after Kahne’s spotter and cousin Kole Kahne had told the driver he was clear — sent Kahne spinning and triggered the chain-reaction.
The Chevys of Kevin Harvick and Smith also sustained damage. Even Keselowski’s Dodge was nicked in the wreck — but obviously not to his detriment.