Brad Keselowski scored his third win of the season when he took the checkered flag in Saturday night's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
Keselowski, who crashed his primary car in the weekend’s opening practice, led 68 laps on his way to a series-leading third victory of the year and seventh of his Sprint Cup Series career.
With only nine races left until the start of the Chase, Keselowski virtually locked himself into the playoffs with the win.
“This is my Martinsville car from the Chase last year,” said Keselowski. “This ain’t the newest car we’ve got, but it sure runs. So, I’m proud of (crew chief) Paul Wolfe and proud of my team, fast race car.
“We fought back through adversity all week in 100 degree temperatures, got this car out, got it ready on the race track to practice and that hard work, that was the weekend for us. That’s what got us in victory lane.”
Keselowski tipped his cap to his entire team and the Penske Racing organization for the solid effort behind the Miller Lite Dodge.
“Roger Penske, I’m sure he’s watching, he’ll tell you that hard work equals results,” said Keselowski. “This team works hard and today we got the results.”
Keselowski, who also ran the weekend’s Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide Series events at Kentucky, had an eventful trip to Kentucky right from the beginning. In addition to his practice crash he was also involved in an incident – or two – Juan Pablo Montoya during those sessions.
While the two haven’t spoken, Keselowski said the who situation might have served as even more of a motivating factor.
"I don't like to get pushed around," Keselowski said. "I felt I was being 'pushed around,' and I hate that. I won't be pushed around.
"I tried to talk with him, but he didn't want to talk."
Kasey Kahne put on a furious charge to recover from a loose wheel early in the race to finish second.
“We got a lap behind there with the loose right front, and then we had another slow stop later,” said Kahne. “The pit crew is really good at times and they're solid. We've got to keep working on it and got to be a little stronger throughout. But my car was fast. And I think the longer the run went, the better we seemed to get. The better I could move around on the racetrack anyways.”
Hamlin led 58 laps in his first race since announcing his Joe Gibbs Racing contract extension earlier in the day. He was disappointed with not being able to win but still pleased overall with the day.
“A great day,” said Hamlin. “When you know you're locked in and know you're going to race where you're going to race for a really long time, and honest people at Joe Gibbs Racing and FedEx have your back a long time, it's a good feeling.
“We're really blessed to have the partnership that we all have the championship winning team, and a team that's capable of winning a championship. That's all I can ask for. So it's up to us to get that done from here on out. Now that it's all settled, it's just been a good day, and you can breathe easily.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon completed the first five finishers.
Jimmie Johnson was sixth to give all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers finishes inside the first six.
Matt Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr., A.J. Allmendinger and Kyle Busch completed the first ten finishers.
The race was slowed by four cautions for 24 laps.
Ryan Newman brought out a yellow on lap 208 when he blew an engine and then slid into the backstretch wall.
It was the second incident of the day for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver who earlier made contact racing with Joey Logano on the front stretch. The impact sent Logano into Clint Bowyer with all three drivers maintaining control of their cars but Newman was not happy with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver afterward.
“I’m not really sure what’s going on with the boy in that No. 20 car,” said Newman. “He’s got a few things to learn and I’m going to have to be the one who teaches him.
“He lost control in the middle of (turns) three and four. I got into the back of him on accident, but I mean that is part of it. He lost control in the first place, I went to go drive around the outside of him and I don’t know if he was half ways blocked me or what. It just about spun him around into the No. 15 and I guess if the No. 15 wasn’t there it would have. Then he raced me really poorly and lack of respect wise. That doesn’t go very far with me you can see from my past I react to that.”
There were 17 lead changes among six different drivers.
Kenseth leads the point standings by eleven over Earnhardt Jr. with Johnson, Greg Biffle and Hamlin the first five.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series now heads to Daytona International Speedway for next Saturday night’s CokeZero 400.