NASCAR: Brad Keselowski wins Camping World 301

jutter@charlotteobserver.comJuly 13, 2014 

— Brad Keselowski marvels at how far he and his No. 2 Team Penske team have come from a year ago.

And even with capturing his third Sprint Cup Series victory of the season Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he wonders how much further he and his team can go.

“I don’t think it’s just that we have three wins,” Keselowski said. “I think that it’s that we’re leading laps. I think we were fast last year at this time, but we weren’t executing.

“This year we’re executing, which is really important, as well. I think we have a lot of potential still left in our team. We need to have another gear to grab to be able to run for a championship here in 2014.

“I think we’re close, but I want to keep pushing.”

Keselowski’s victory – the 13th of his career – in Sunday’s Camping World 301 capped a weekend of back-to-back wins in dominating fashion. He handily won Saturday’s Nationwide Series race and led a race-high 138 of 305 laps Sunday.

The victory also extended Ford Racing’s win streak in the Cup series to four races – two by Keselowski (the other was Kentucky). Ford last won four races in a row during the 2001 season.

The win is also the eighth of the season for Ford, the most for the manufacturer since winning 11 in 2008.

“I feel like I’m in a really strong rhythm right now,” said Keselowski, who won the 2012 championship but failed to make the Chase field last season. “I think some of last year’s struggles put me in a spot to work harder and become a better race car driver.

“I think we’re combining all those things, and we’re seeing the fruits of that labor with, like I said, more to come.”

Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford was overpowering the entire race. Even on restarts in which he lost positions on pit road by keeping to a four-tire strategy while other teams took two, Keselowski was able to drive back up to the lead.

He appeared to have victory well in hand until Justin Allgaier wrecked on Lap 298, which brought out the seventh caution of the race. The prolonged cleanup sent the race into a two-lap overtime, allowing Keselowski’s competition a final chance to catch him.

Jeff Gordon, who was running second, appeared to have the best chance but ran out of fuel just before the restart. That left it up to Kyle Busch to attempt to deny Keselowski the win, but Busch couldn’t get close enough to attempt a pass for the lead.

“The last two races (Keselowski won) we’ve been second,” Busch said, “but it would be nice to get up there and lead some more laps, be a little bit more dominant and show that we’ve got a little bit better car than where we’re running.

“We’ll get there hopefully. It’s not quite time to get ready to have to go for the Chase, but it’s about that time, so we’ve got a few weeks.”

Keselowski said he took nothing for granted on the final restart.

“The yellow comes out while we’re leading the race and dominating with two to go (of the scheduled 301 laps), and you’re like, ‘Geez, can I just catch a break?’ ” he said. “That stuff wears on you mentally.

“I can drive the heck out of a car, but you can only do so much. You’ve got to have a good horse, and we had that today. I’m just really, really thankful and happy with the form we have right now.”

Rookie Kyle Larson finished third, Matt Kenseth was fourth and Ryan Newman was fifth. Gordon continues to lead the series points standings and holds a 12-point advantage over Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The Cup series takes its final off week of the season this week and returns to action July 27 with the Crown Royal 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @jim_utter

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