YES, IT’S KES
Keselowski emerges victorious in Cup Series race after start-to-finish battle with Hamlin
LOUDON, N.H. — Brad Keselowski prevailed in a racelong duel Sunday with Denny Hamlin at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to capture his third victory of the NASCAR season.
Keselowski and Hamlin swapped stage victories and had the lead a combined 18 times before Keselowski, who is in a contract year for Team Penske, took the checkered flag 1.647 seconds ahead of Hamlin.
After the victory, Keselowski grabbed a U.S. flag and spun his car around in front of fans who were masked and socially distanced for much of the race before crowding the fence to chant, “Brad! “Brad!” at the winner.
‘‘It’s so great to be racing back in front of fans again,’’ Keselowski said. ‘‘It feels like forever, so welcome back, guys. We’re just so glad to have them all back. It feels so weird to be racing without fans, but we’re glad you’re here. I hope you stay safe, and thank you for being here.”
Martin Truex Jr. finished third after working his way back from the rear of the field because of a penalty for a runaway tire in the pits. Joey Logano was fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth.
Reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Busch finished last after a flat front right tire on the backstretch sent him skidding into the wall after only 15 laps. Busch is a 12-time winner in New Hampshire, including three times in the top series.
‘‘About halfway down the backstretch, I felt it go flat and tried to get slowed down enough without taking everybody behind me down the straightaway,’’ Busch said. ‘‘It’s still 2020, but sooner or later we have to turn this stuff around.’’
The track has a capacity of 76,000, but Gov. Chris Sununu said last week that he expected about 12,000 fans to attend. A track spokeswoman said attendance wouldn’t be announced, but it appeared to be about 10% full.
Sununu gave a brief welcome before the race and thanked fans for cooperating with the restrictions. Fans were required to wear masks when making their way around the track but could remove them while sitting in their seats.
Hamlin won the first stage after fighting for the lead with Keselowski and Ryan Blaney. Keselowski took the second stage, passing Hamlin on the final lap of a twolap sprint after a series of cautions late in the stage.
‘‘We were going back and forth,’’ Hamlin said of his duel with Keselowski. ‘‘Wow, that was some really, really good shorttrack racing there. Hopefully the fans liked what they saw there with me and [Keselowski] for most of the day. It was some great side-by-side racing. We treated each other fair, and it’s good that we got 1-2 out of it.’’
In his last start in New Hampshire, where he swept the Cup Series events in 2003, Jimmie Johnson recovered from an early spin to finish 12th. The seven-time Cup Series champion entered the day 19th in the playoff race — below the cut line — and has only six races left to make up ground.
Bubba Wallace and Corey LaJoie were sent to the back of the grid because of improperly mounted ballast that was discovered during a pre-race inspection. They also were docked 10 points in the driver standings.
Brad Keselowski (left and in the No. 2 car, above) won a battle with Denny Hamlin (in the No. 11 car) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.