Ke­selowski routs Rich­mond field to grab top seed

The Times Herald (Norristown, PA) - - SPORTS - By JENNA FRYER

RICH­MOND, Va. — NASCAR’s new win-and-in for­mat had the po­ten­tial to give one driver a shot at a dra­matic last­grasp berth into the Chase for the Sprint Cup cham­pi­onship.

There were 17 driv­ers who could have raced their way into the Chase by win­ning Satur­day night at Rich­mond In­ter­na­tional Race­way, but Brad Ke­selowski would have noth­ing to do with a sto­ry­book end­ing.

Ke­selowski routed the Rich­mond field, lead­ing all but 17 of the 400 laps en route to his fourth vic­tory of the sea­son. It gave him the top seed in the Chase, which­be­gins nex­tSun­day­atChicagoland Speed­way.

“What a night. I pulled into Vic­tory lane and I pinched my­self once to make sure I wasn’t dream­ing,” said Ke­selowski, the 2012 cham­pion. “Th­ese are nights you don’t for­get as a driver and you live for.”

Kevin Har­vick was the only driver who ap­peared ca­pa­ble of chal­leng­ing Ke­selowski, but it was early in the race when he led the other 17 laps that Ke­selowski did not claim. His Ste­wartHaas Rac­ing team again strug­gled on pit road.

“It’s prob­a­bly the big­gest thing that we have to fix in or­der to con­tend for the cham­pi­onship,” Har­vick said.

The lack of on-track ac­tion meant the only drama to come out of the race was when a fan climbed to the top of the Turn 4 catch­fence that sep­a­rates the track from the grand­stands. NASCAR was forced to throw the cau­tion flag with 69 laps re­main­ing. A track spokes­woman said the uniden­ti­fied man was ar­rested by Hen­rico County po­lice and charged with be­ing drunk in pub­lic and disor­derly con­duct.

“If he wants to play in traf­fic, it’s his prob­lem,” said Denny Ham­lin, who dropped two laps down be­cause of the cau­tion.

De­fend­ing NASCAR cham­pion Jim­mie John­son fin­ished eighth but was ap­par­ently suf­fer­ing from de­hy­dra­tion when he ex­ited the car. He first laid down next to his car, then had to be helped to a cart by his Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports crew. He was taken to the in­field care cen­ter, where he was treated for roughly 90 min­utes.

John­son, who can­celed his planned Sun­day par­tic­i­pa­tion in a sprint triathlon for his foun­da­tion, said he was treated with five liters of flu­ids.

“I got de­hy­drated in the car and I’m not ex­actly sure what led to it,” he said. “I started cramp­ing when I got out of the race car and when I was cramp­ing, I was try­ing to stand up and I got dizzy, so I sat back down.”

Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports team­mate Jeff Gor­don said it gets hot in the car.

“I know there was a cou­ple times through­out the race where I felt like I was cramp­ing, as well,” Gor­don said. “It’s hot out there. It’s hard to keep your flu­ids.”

Noth­ing fazed Ke­selowski, who came to Rich­mond a year ago need­ing a strong fin­ish to make the Chase field, but failed and was not el­i­gi­ble to de­fend his ti­tle. Now he’ll try to give Team Penske a sea­son sweep — Will Power gave the or­ga­ni­za­tion the IndyCar cham­pi­onship a week ago.

“I think last year was a bit of a kick in the butt,” Ke­selowski said. “It was enough to re­ally push us all and find another level. We did a great job in 2012, but in the sports world you’ve got to keep pro­gress­ing. Ev­ery­one else pro­gressed and we didn’t.”

There were two spots up for grab in the 16-driver Chase field, but Ryan New­man and Greg Bif­fle pretty much en­tered the race in con­trol of their own fate. New­man never left any­thing to chance with a strong ninth-place fin­ish, and Bif­fle slid into the fi­nal spot with a 19-place fin­ish.

“When you are that far off, it is the hard­est thing in the world to drive,” Bif­fle said. “This is the tough­est thing I’ve ever done in my life, drive and try to stay in the top 20.”

Gor­don, the points leader for much of the reg­u­lar sea­son, fin­ished sec­ond. Clint Bowyer, who needed to win to guar­an­tee his Chase berth, was a disap- point­ing third.

“I knew com­ing in here, it was a long shot at best,” Bowyer said. “We put it all out there. I raced as hard as we could. At our very best, we were a third-place race car tonight at my very best race track.”

Bowyer was caught in the mid­dle of a scan­dal at this race a year ago when his late-race spin set in mo­tion a chain of events that helped then-team­mate Martin Truex Jr. make the Chase at the ex­pense of New­man. NASCAR even­tu­ally threw Truex out of the Chase, put New­man in and added Gor­don as an ad­di­tional driver.

He was de­jected Satur­day night after com­ing up short, but said his Michael Wal­trip Rac­ing team wasn’t cham­pion- ship-level, any­way.

“If you make the Chase, you want to com­pete for a cham­pi­onship,” he said. “Truth be told, we’re not there right now.”

Tony Ste­wart, in his sec­ond race back since he sat out three after his sprint car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. at a New York dirt track, fin­ished 15th. He would have been el­i­gi­ble to com­pete in the Chase if he won Satur­day night’s race based on a waiver NASCAR gave him upon his re­turn last week. The three-time cham­pion had cracked the top 10 but his crew missed a lug nut on a late pit stop that took him out of con­tention.

“That’s all I had, bud,” he ra­dioed his crew.

Steve Helber/The As­so­ci­ated Press

Brad Ke­selowski cel­e­brates after win­ning the NASCAR Sprint Cup auto race at Rich­mond In­ter­na­tional Race­way in Rich­mond, Va., Satur­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.