Monday, February 19, 2018
Sports

Brad Keselowski seizes Chase lead with fifth victory of season

. fast facts

Sprint Cup points

With seven races left in the Chase for the Championship, only these drivers are eligible to win the title:

Driver Pts.Back

B. Keselowski 2,142—

J. Johnson 2,137 5

Denny Hamlin 2,126 16

Clint Bowyer 2,117 25

Tony Stewart 2,110 32

Kasey Kahne 2,110 32

D. Earnhardt Jr. 2,103 39

Martin Truex 2,100 42

Kevin Harvick 2,096 46

Jeff Gordon 2,094 48

Greg Biffle 2,091 51

Matt Kenseth 2,070 72

Note: Points unofficial; NASCAR posts official points today.

DOVER, Del. — Brad Kese­lowski had fuel to spare for a couple of victory burnouts. Those few splashes of gas left down the stretch were just enough for a checkered flag and a sign Keselowski is a championship favorite.

With other contenders battling fuel woes and limping toward pit road, Keselowski had enough gas in the No. 2 Dodge to win the AAA 400 on Sunday at Dover International Speedway, his second victory in three weeks.

Keselowski's stout start to the Chase for the Championship allowed him to swipe the points lead from Jimmie Johnson. Kese­lowski holds a five-point lead over Johnson as the Chase shifts to Talladega. Keselowski, who won the Chase opener at Chicago­land, has avoided the famed "big ones" that strike the Alabama track to win twice there in seven career starts.

On Sunday, he held off a late push from runnerup Jeff Gordon to match Denny Hamlin for the season victory lead with five.

"I can't state loudly enough how much longer this battle is," Keselowski said.

Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin have staked their claim through the first three of 10 Chase races as the drivers to beat.

Johnson and Hamlin each led a chunk of laps on the mile concrete oval but failed to stretch their fuel to the end. Johnson, who has seven career wins at Dover, was ordered to back off the gas and salvaged a fourth-place finish. Hamlin pitted with 10 laps left and finished eighth after starting from the pole.

"They're not going to beat us on the track, that's just plain and simple," Hamlin said. "We're just too fast right now, and I feel like everything is going well. These strategy games, and the way these cautions are falling, it's ill-timed."

There was a caution at the end of a cycle of green-flag pit stops only 69 laps into the race that quickly dropped a lot of drivers a lap back. Most of the field couldn't ever get that lap back, and only six drivers finished on the lead lap.

"By no means do I feel like we're the favorite," Keselowski said. "Certainly, we're not the underdog."

Keselowski joked he had about another "100 miles" of racing left in his tank.

While crew chief Paul Wolfe didn't want to reveal too much of his fuel-saving strategy, he conceded the car was "within a lap or two" or running on fumes. Keselowski raced the last 89 laps without a stop.

"There's always some risk in calls like that," Wolfe said. "… I felt like we were as good as anybody on mileage."

Johnson had his record eighth win at Dover in sight until he was forced to start saving fuel with about 15 laps left. Crew chief Chad Knaus told Johnson to yield the lead so the No. 48 could salvage a top-five.

"I wish we could have raced for it," Johnson said. "We finally got control of the race late. But it just didn't unfold like a normal race here."

NHRA: Antron Brown raced to his sixth Top Fuel victory of the season, winning the Midwest Nationals in Madison, Ill., to increase his championship points lead over Spencer Massey to 21 points with three races left in the Countdown to the Championship playoffs. Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Erica Enders (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) also won their classifications.

EAST BAY RACEWAY: Jack Nosbisch Jr. captured the Late Model race Saturday. Other winners: Jamie Frankland (Old Time Mods), Marco Reyes (V8 Warriors) and John Moore (4 Cylinder Bombers).

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