From the moment he gently laid the front bumper onto the rear of Denny Hamlin’s pole sitting Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota as they entered the first turn of the race Brad Keselowski dominated the Pocono 400.
He used the gap he created at turn one to move into a lead which he held for the first 56 laps of the race. In total Keselowski led 95 of the race’s 160 laps, however, he failed to lead the crucial five that would have taken his tally over the century, and over the finish line at the end of the race.
The field having shuffled through a sequence of lead changes during green flag pitstops Keselowski picked the lead back up with 20 laps to go under a caution flag brought out when Danica Patrick pushed up against the turn three wall.
Using the outside line on the restart – a contrary seeming tactic he had used to great effect throughout the race – Keselowski jumped back out into the lead ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and began to pull into a lead – just as he had done throughout the race. He performed the trick one more time after a final caution triggered by crash involving Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards, Kahne twice slamming into the wall after being eased out of the racing groove by Kyle Busch.
Again Keselowski jumped into the lead, heading – you would have wagered – for his second win of the season. At that point a piece of rubbish floated itself onto Keselowski’s grill and did what was beyond the rest of the Sprint Cup field – it beat him.
As the laps ticked down the water temperature inside the #2 rose and Keselowski was forced to seek ways of removing the blockage. As the lead pair – Earnhardt Jr. maintaining a watching brief in second – approached the damaged car of Danica Patrick Keselowski took the opportunity to try and use the disturbance in the air behind the #10 car to clear his radiator.
He was unsuccessful. The rubbish remained firmly plastered to front of the #2 car and, as he had been forced to slow behind Patrick Earnhardt Jr. stole through to take the lead.
Despite repeatedly diving down into the corners behind Earnhardt Jr. Keselowski was unable to close the gap, leaving the rubbish on the grill and a frustrated Keselowski in second place.
“We were just running really hot,” said Keselowski, “and the motor was going to blow up so I had to do something so I tried to follow the 10 down in the corner to get the debris off and I just checked up too much. I thought I had more room than I did. The team did a heck of a job, I just messed up a little bit there.”
Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin duelled through the final laps to finish third and fourth respectively with Kyle Larson the best of the rookies in fifth place ahead of Jimmie Johnson.
Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray completed the top ten.
Gordon’s eighth allowed him to retake the points lead from Matt Kenseth who endured a troubled weekend that ended in 25th place and with heavy front end damage after contact following a restart.
Earnhardt Jr.’s second win of the year – as well as rubber stamping his pass through the season deciding Chase – moved him to third in the points ahead of Jimmie Johnson who had most of his chance of a third straight win taken away by contact with Marcos Ambrose on pit lane.