For some reason several of the NASCAR races over the past few weekends have been won and lost on fuel strategy and the STP 400 Sprint Cup Series race at Kansas on Sunday was no exception. Who knows whether it has just been coincidence or maybe the crew chiefs are paring the fuel splashed in to the cars down to the bare minimum? Time will tell.
The driver who had the fuel strategy go his way this time was Brad Keselowski in the Miller Lite Dodge, the blue deuce, to record his second ever win in Cup racing and his first series win of the season. Crew chief Paul Wolfe carried his strategic thinking to more than just how much fuel Keselowski needed to save on his last run.
It was not until two laps to go that Keselowski caught sight of the timing tower and realised he was leading. The crew had chosen not to tell him before then so that he would focus just on driving for fuel mileage. He said after the race, “I was initially mad at my guys for not telling me but you get over it pretty quick when you take the checkered flag.”
Excellent in-car television footage showed that Keselowski was actually coasting through the turns with the clutch depressed and just powering down the straights. And all the while in those last few laps he had Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Denny Hamlin tracking him down until they were told to conserve fuel as well, with Earnhardt running out of fuel just after he crossed the finishing line.
Earnhardt had run well all race and thought he had lost his chance when he spun the no. 88 Chevrolet just over 100 laps before the end but he managed to keep it out of the wall and got his head down to claw his way back through the field. When Earnhardt passed Hamlin both drivers thought it was for the lead believing that the no. 2 Dodge was certainly going to stop again for fuel but they hadn’t allowed for the leader’s ability to eke his fuel out for the run to the finish.
Keslowski’s teammate at Penske Racing, Kurt Busch comfortably led the most laps and had the fastest car out there but a fuel stop ten laps before the end took him out of the reckoning to eventually finish in ninth place. He was genuinely magnanimous after the race, glad that he had been given such a fast car and competed well but, in the absence of him taking the win, was truly pleased that Keselowski had taken the victory.
Keselowski’s win means he climbs four places to twenty-first in the points table just seven points back from Paul Menard. If he can move up into the top twenty he might well be able to claim one of the two wild card entries in to The Chase.
Earnhardt’s runner-up spot saw him move up to third in the table behind seventh place finisher, Jimmie Johnson, whilst Carl Edwards has extended his lead by three points. Hamlin’s third place brings him just one place and one point from the safety zone of a top ten position and with next week’s race at Pocono, a track he loves and at which he has a good record he will be hopeful of keeping his steady climb up the points table going.
A final thought on Kansas. For those who love the history of motor sport it was wonderful to see the King himself, Richard Petty, was Grand Marshal for this race and it was incumbent upon him to utter those magical words, “Gentlemen, start your engines!” The special touch for the history buffs was that the iconic number 43 car, run by Richard Petty Motorsports and driven by A J Allmendinger, was painted in a retro blue and red colour scheme of STP, Petty’s loyal backer and also sponsor of Sunday’s race race.