YES, IT’S KES

Ke­selowski emerges vic­to­ri­ous in Cup Se­ries race af­ter start-to-fin­ish bat­tle with Ham­lin

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - BY JIMMY GOLEN

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.

GETTY IM­AGES PHO­TOS

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.

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