DOVER, Del. — Has Brad Keselowski gone from afterthought to championship favorite?
Keselowski, who trailed Jimmie Johnson by one point in the Sprint Cup Series standings entering the weekend but seemed an afterthought in title conversations, saved enough fuel to eek out a victory in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.
The win is Keselowski’s second in the Chase and makes him the series points leader going into next weekend’s race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where Keselowski won in the spring.
Jeff Gordon finished second, Mark Martin was third, Jimmie Johnson was fourth and Carl Edwards was fifth.
While Denny Hamlin led the first 34 laps of the race, Kyle Busch soon took command.
Busch passed Hamlin on Lap 35 of the lead for the first time and then led 111 consecutive laps before briefly losing the top spot during green-flag pit stops.
J.J. Yeley scrubbed the wall on Lap 69 to bring out the first caution of the race. Many drivers had already made a green-flag pit stop and were trapped two or more laps down when the caution was displayed.
On the restart on Lap 77, only seven cars remained on the lead lap with Busch out front followed by Hamlin, Bowyer, Johnson and Keselowski.
Another round of green-flag stops began on Lap 147. When they were completed on Lap 153, Busch remained the leader followed by Hamlin and Johnson.
Debris on the track brought out the second caution of the race on Lap 179. On the restart on Lap 185, Hamlin was in the lead followed by Busch and Johnson.
Busch quickly retook the lead following the restart and remained out front as the race’s third caution was displayed on Lap 247, again for debris.
On the restart on Lap 253, Busch was the leader followed by Johnson and Keselowski.
After 300 of the 400 laps, Busch continued to lead by a comfortable margin over Johnson.
The track bar on Matt Kenseth’s car appeared to break on Lap 310 to bring out the fourth caution of the race.
This time, all the lead lap cars pit for fuel and tires and Johnson took over the lead for the first time on the restart on Lap 316.
One lap later caution was again displayed when Kenseth again wrecked on the track. With many teams close on fuel, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr. and Bowyer all pitted for additional fuel.
On the restart on Lap 322, Johnson led the way followed by Busch and Hamlin.
With 45 laps remaining, Busch ran down Johnson and powered around him for the lead but it remained in question whether Busch had enough fuel to make it to the end without pitting.
In the final 35 laps, Kahne, Busch and Hamlin all had to pit for fuel, allowing Keselowski to inherit the lead on Lap 391.