Adroitly saving fuel over the final 79-lap green-flag run, the devil in the Blue Deuce, Detroit’s consummate wheel man, triumphed in what was perhaps the fourth- or fifth- or sixth-best car in the third Chase for the Sprint Cup race.
Keselowski wasn’t supposed to win at Dover, where his career average finish in five previous starts had been 17.0, but he did. Keselowski wasn’t supposed to be leading the series standings three races into the Chase, but he is, by five points over five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who limped home in fourth place, saving every drop of fuel he could by slowing down and surrendering spots on the track in the closing laps.
The win was supposed to go to Johnson, a seven-time victor at Dover — tied for the track record with Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. And if not Johnson, then Kyle Busch, who led 302 of 400 laps but had to pit late for fuel.
If not Kyle Busch, then his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, with his pole-winning form and an attitude buttressed by a sports psychologist. Hamlin led the first 34 laps and ran in the top three all afternoon, but a fuel shortage forced him to the pits with nine laps left, at which point Keselowski took over a lead he held to the finish.
Ultimately, Keselowski beat hard-charging Jeff Gordon to the finish line by 1.078 seconds to win his series-best fifth race of the season, his second in the Chase, his first at Dover and the ninth of his career. Gordon had topped off his gas tank on Lap 318 and had ample fuel to get to the finish, as did third-place Mark Martin, who rallied from a lap down to challenge Gordon for the runner-up spot.
Jimmie Johnson held fourth despite drastically backing down his lap speeds to conserve fuel. Carl Edwards ran fifth, posting his first top-five since the Fontana, Calif., race in late March and his third of the season.
Keselowski had nothing but praise for crew chief Paul Wolfe and the team that builds his Penske Racing engines.
“This has been one of my worst tracks,” Keselowski said. “I ran up front all day. I may not have had the best car, but hung around in that top five, just creeping around, and when you do that, you put yourself in position for good things to happen.
“That’s what this No. 2 team has done the last few months. Man, if we keep doing this the next seven weeks, it will be an awesome seven weeks. I’m just really, really proud of the effort.”
Johnson seemed poised for an eighth victory, after beating Busch out of the pits under caution on Lap 309, thanks to a 12.5-second stop to Busch’s 13.5 seconds. Thirty laps into a green-flag run that started on Lap 322, crew chief Chad Knaus posed an uncomfortable choice to the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet — either give up positions and save fuel or race hard, plan for another pit stop and hope for another caution.
They chose the fuel-saving option and salvaged fourth but were unable to contend for the win when the race went green the rest of the way.