Penske's Kurt Busch dominated Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway but it was his team-mate Brad Keselowski who claimed victory for the outfit after saving enough fuel to avoid a late pitstop.
Keselowski was not a contender at the front during the day but a late strategy gamble and the current Nationwide Series champion's fuel-saving tactics placed him in a position to win his second Cup race, and his first for Roger Penske.
His team-mate Busch had started from pole and led 152 out of the 267 scheduled laps, until he had to pit for fuel with nine laps remaining. He was one of several cars short on gas by a handful of laps, but was the last to finally pit in the end as an expected caution never waved.
Keselowski, who had pitted for the last time five laps after his team-mate did, was not exactly on the safe side on fuel when he inherited the lead. He saved as much as he could pressing the clutch pedal on the entry of Turns 1 and 3, hoping his tactic would be enough to take him to the chequered flag.
At the same time he had an eye on his mirror, as Hendrick Motorsports' Dale Earnhardt Jr was closing on him, apparently with more fuel on board as he had pitted for the final time a few laps after the Penske driver.
In the end Keselowski was able to manage both his right foot and the gap to his rival and still take the chequered flag ahead by 2.8 seconds, ensuring a happy day for 'Captain' Penske after the dominant showing from Busch did not translate into an equally emphatic result.
"I was just hoping to hang on to second," said Keselowski. "Nobody really told me that we were leading. I don't know when I took the lead. The scoreboard is right in the middle of the racetrack and I looked over and saw my name on the top with two to go. I started shaking. I'm glad that they didn't tell me.
"It's because of the hard work. It's because of the bad finishes and the struggles that we had to get here that I really appreciate this win."
For the second week in a row Earnhardt came close to bringing his winless streak to an end. The Hendrick driver had spun on lap 152 after getting loose at the exit of Turn 4 but was able to get back in contention through the right strategy calls.
Although this time he had enough fuel to make it through after missing on victory at the last corner last week at Charlotte, Keselowski - who ironically used to drive for Earnhardt in the Nationwide Series until two years ago - denied him that elusive win.
"I had a good car. I spun out up there trying to find a little more speed on the top," said Earnhardt. "We had a fast car though. Just started way back there in the back. We haven't qualified any better than 22nd besides Daytona and Talladega. We need to fix that somehow. It was a fast car."
Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin finished third running the same strategy as Earnhardt, while Hendrick's Jeff Gordon finished fourth as the best of those who did an extra stop for fuel. Roush Fenway's Carl Edwards, also running the same strategy, rounded out the top five as his team did not live up to its promise after running strongly in practice.
Tony Stewart was eighth behind reigning champion Jimmie Johnson, but the race could have been his if not for a miscue with his car's refuelling, as he pitted for the last time a lap after Keselowski but did not receive a full tank and had to return for a splash a few laps from the end.
"We didn't get all the fuel in it to make it to the end," Stewart said. "We had a problem getting the fuel in and we didn't get it full at that second to last stop so we had to pit there with about 10 to go. There's nothing you can do."
Edwards continues to lead the points while Johnson has regained second place ahead of Earnhardt. Richard Childress' Kevin Harvick was 11th at the flag and dropped to fourth in the standings.
Keselowski's win vaulted him up to 21st in the points, but he needs to break into the top 20 in order for his victory to help him become eligible for a wildcard seeding in this year's Chase.
Results - 267 laps Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge 2h55m10.000s 2. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 2.813s 3. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 6.340s 4. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 6.483s 5. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 7.997s 6. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 12.081s 7. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 12.326s 8. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 12.451s 9. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 14.716s 10. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 17.769s 11. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 19.757s 12. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 20.639s 13. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 21.475s 14. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota + 29.681s 15. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 30.113s 16. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota + 30.953s 17. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap 18. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap 19. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap 20. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 1 lap 21. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap 22. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 1 lap 23. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap 24. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 1 lap 25. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap 26. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 1 lap 27. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 1 lap 28. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 1 lap 29. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap 30. Patrick Carpentier FAS Lane Ford + 2 laps 31. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet + 2 laps 32. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 3 laps 33. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 4 laps 34. Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford + 24 laps 35. Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet + 77 laps Retirements: Johnny Sauter Gordon Dodge 101 laps Casey Mears Germain Toyota 100 laps JJ Yeley Whitney Chevrolet 38 laps David Stremme Inception Chevrolet 37 laps Mike Skinner Germain Toyota 34 laps Michael McDowell HP Toyota 33 laps Scott Riggs Whitney Chevrolet 20 laps Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 19 laps
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