Dover (Del.) International Speedway may have become Jimmie Johnson’s playground of sorts, with the driver laying claim to seven NASCAR Sprint Cup wins at the track. But Sunday’s AAA 400 turned into a type of race Brad Keselowski is a master at — fuel conservation.
“We knew it was going to be close,” Keselowski’s crew chief Paul Wolfe said. “We knew everyone else was also in the same boat, but we get a little bit better fuel mileage.”
As Johnson gave up positions late, going into fuel conservation mode, and Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin headed down pit road in the final 10 laps for splashes of fuel, Keselowski drove on to the race win, his fifth of the year and his second in only three Chase for the Sprint Cup races.
“Penske Engines has done a phenomenal job with these engines,” Keselowski said. “It’s a balance.”
Jeff Gordon finished second, and Mark Martin battled from a couple of laps down early in the race to finish third.
“We passed cars, and passed cars, and passed cars,” Martin said. “We passed a lot of race cars today.”
The race was dominated by the Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, primarily Busch. Hamlin started on the pole and led the way early before relinquishing the top spot to Busch around lap 40. Busch led most of the remaining laps of the 400 lap race.
The group of cars on the lead lap was a small group for much of the race after a yellow flag waved on lap 69 after most of, but not all of, the race field cycled through green-flag stops. Through much of the remainder of the race, the number of the cars on the lead lap totalled fewer than 10, and only six cars finished on the lead lap.
Johnson wound up fourth after giving up several positions to save fuel. Carl Edwards was fifth and Martin Truex Jr. sixth.
Johnson got off pit road to take the lead from Busch during a caution that came out on lap 300. He continued to lead until slowing to save fuel, letting Busch by with 45 laps to go. Hamlin also got by Johnson a few laps later to take the second spot.
Keselowski moved into third when he passed Johnson with 15 laps to go. A few laps later, Busch and Hamlin headed down pit road, moving Keselowski into the lead.
“We hung around in the top-five,” Keselowski said. “When you do that, you put yourself in contention.”
After pitting, Busch and Hamlin finished seventh and eighth, the first two drivers one lap down.
With the win, Keselowski moved back into the points lead, with a five-point margin over second-place Johnson.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR
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