Published on September 8th, 2014 | by NASCAR Wire Service0
Keselowski Dominates; Newman, Biffle Make Chase
The car and driver to beat in the 2014 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup identified themselves emphatically on Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
Brad Keselowski led all but 17 of 400 laps in winning the Federated Auto Parts 400, the final race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season. In the process, he won his fourth race of the season and secured top seeding for the 10-race Chase, which starts Sunday, Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway (2 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle secured the final two of 16 Chase spots on points, Newman with a solid ninth-place run, Biffle with a much shakier 19th-place finish, two laps down.
But it was Keselowski who made the statement in securing the 400th victory across all racing series for team owner Roger Penske.
“What a night!” Keselowski said. “Part of me, I pulled into victory lane and I pinched myself once to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. These are nights you don’t forget as a driver—and you live for. The Miller Lite Ford Fusion was just flying, and this is— I couldn’t ask for a better way to enter the Chase than to win and take the first seed.
“We’re ready. We want to run for another Cup. We really feel like this team has it. Team Penske is really clicking… 400th win for Team Penske, and this feels so lucky, man, to have such an incredible team and a car like we did tonight and be able to execute it and not have any bad luck. We’ve had plenty of bad luck over the last few weeks, but, wow, what a night!”
Keselowski, the Coors Light pole winner, took the lead for the final time on Lap 127 when he beat race runner-up Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick, the race’s only other leader, off pit road. From that point on, Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford was untouchable.
Gordon made it interesting in the closing laps, finishing .797 seconds behind the Keselowski, who won for the first time at the .75-mile short track and the 14th time in his career. Clint Bowyer ran third but failed to make the Chase.
Jamie McMurray came home fourth, one spot ahead of Harvick, whose car faded in the final 110 laps.
For the first three quarters of the race, Keselowski was totally dominant, leading 283 of the first 300 laps. Harvick provided the only competition for the No. 2 Team Penske Ford in the early stages of the race, running a high line in the corners and taking the point twice for a total of 17 laps before Keselowski regained control after a restart on Lap 132.
Bowyer grabbed the second position from Harvick with an aggressive move on a Lap 271 restart. Keselowski continued to lead, but Bowyer stayed close for the first 50 laps of the subsequent green-flag run.
Gordon charged past Harvick for the third spot on Lap 290 and took off in pursuit of Bowyer, who surrendered the second position on Lap 319, 10 circuits before a fan caused a caution with an ill-advised, albeit successful attempt to scale the catchfence in Turn 4.
But if that caution gave the drivers behind him a glimmer of hope, Keselowski quickly snuffed it out, pulling away from Gordon, Bowyer and Harvick after a restart on Lap 337 and opening a two-second advantage by Lap 355.
Though Gordon got closer as the run continued, Keselowski had built too big a lead in the early stages for Gordon to challenge for the win.
The four-time series champion acknowledged he couldn’t compete with Keselowski on the short runs, but Gordon wasn’t about to concede the title to his Team Penske rival.
“I didn’t feel like we had a car that could compete with Brad at certain portions of the night, but we just never gave up on it… great pit stops, great adjustments, and there at the end, we were closing on him,” Gordon said. “It wasn’t a win, but still great momentum to carry into the Chase.
“This team is on fire, and we just can’t wait to get it all started. It’s been a heck of a year. Our fans and the way that they’ve embraced this season has been extremely motivating, and I know how proud they are. And we’re proud of the effort and the results that we’re getting this year. Ten more weeks that we’ve got to get it done, and this team is ready to do that.”
Though Bowyer finished just seven points behind Biffle in the battle for the final Chase position, realistically, the driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota had to win the race to make the postseason.
And Bowyer left nothing on the table.
“That was our best effort,” he said. “That’s all I had. That’s all we had as a race team. We put it all out there, and still, we were just third best.”
Note: Keselowski eclipsed Denny Hamlin for most laps led in a scheduled 400-lap Richmond race. Hamlin led 381 laps in May 2008.