NASCAR Barometer: Keselowski Stretches Fuel for Quaker State 400 Win

NASCAR Barometer: Keselowski Stretches Fuel for Quaker State 400 Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Brad Keselowski stretched his final fuel load to the extreme to hang on to a late lead and capture his third track win in Saturday's Quaker State 400. It was Keselowski's fourth victory of 2016 and his second in consecutive weeks.

Saturday's race was one of attrition in the first half, as teams struggled with tire wear. Only 16 cars finished on the lead lap, and the winner was ultimately decided by fuel mileage. The severe tire wear was due to the notorious nature of Kentucky Speedway being one of most unforgiving circuits on the calendar. The track was repaved, and the characteristic bumps were absent this visit, but the new pavement proved to be almost as abrasive as the original surface. Tire wear caught out a number of teams, but managing that degradation while stretching fuel mileage was what made the difference for Keselowski last week.

UPGRADE

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski saved fuel and held off a charging Carl Edwards to claim his third Kentucky win, second win in a row and fourth victory in 2016. His result Saturday night was a remarkable turnaround after Ford-powered cars appeared to be behind the pace in practice on Friday. The team worked consistently every pit stop to make his car better and keep him pushing forward in the field. He asserted his dominance in the last 67 laps when he took command of the race and never looked back. Keselowski has one New Hampshire win and hasn't finished lower than 12th

Brad Keselowski stretched his final fuel load to the extreme to hang on to a late lead and capture his third track win in Saturday's Quaker State 400. It was Keselowski's fourth victory of 2016 and his second in consecutive weeks.

Saturday's race was one of attrition in the first half, as teams struggled with tire wear. Only 16 cars finished on the lead lap, and the winner was ultimately decided by fuel mileage. The severe tire wear was due to the notorious nature of Kentucky Speedway being one of most unforgiving circuits on the calendar. The track was repaved, and the characteristic bumps were absent this visit, but the new pavement proved to be almost as abrasive as the original surface. Tire wear caught out a number of teams, but managing that degradation while stretching fuel mileage was what made the difference for Keselowski last week.

UPGRADE

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski saved fuel and held off a charging Carl Edwards to claim his third Kentucky win, second win in a row and fourth victory in 2016. His result Saturday night was a remarkable turnaround after Ford-powered cars appeared to be behind the pace in practice on Friday. The team worked consistently every pit stop to make his car better and keep him pushing forward in the field. He asserted his dominance in the last 67 laps when he took command of the race and never looked back. Keselowski has one New Hampshire win and hasn't finished lower than 12th at the track since 2011 and comes into this week's race with more momentum than anyone else.

Matt Kenseth – Kenseth showed virtually no speed in Friday practice for Saturday night's Quaker State 400. While his Toyota teammates topped the timesheets for just about every session, it was Kenseth who languished deep in the order. The situation seemed to correct itself when the green flag waved for the start of the race, however. Kenseth was a consistent contender inside the top 10 in the first 200 miles. At the end, he was one of the cars chasing down Keselowski, and he even briefly took the lead before having to pit himself. The night was a good one for him and the team, and he's the most recent winner at New Hampshire and has two wins in the last five races at the track.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick was one of a handful of cars that didn't show earth-shattering speed in practice but was much improved in Saturday night's race. In fact, Harvick started from pole after qualifying was rained out and went on to lead the most laps in the race. Should the handful of cars that finished ahead of him not been able to make it to the finish, Harvick was in position to capitalize. Things didn't turn out in his favor, however. His ninth-place finish was an immediate turnaround from a 39th-place disaster at Daytona. His lone New Hampshire win came back in 2006, but he finished third there twice in the last three races while leading nearly 400 laps in that span.

Carl Edwards – Weekend practice at Kentucky heavily favored Edwards and Joe Gibbs Racing. The teammates were the fastest cars throughout the sessions, and also came to the front at the start of Saturday's race. Edwards held an advantage in the race on Saturday, too, but came up short when it boiled down to him making one final pass on Keselowski. The Penske car, remarkably, found a last splash of fuel just as Edwards screamed up to the leader's rear bumper. In the end there was just enough in the tank to hold off the No. 19 car, and Edwards settled for second-place. Edwards has never won at New Hampshire, but he started from pole position and led 19 laps in both races at the track last season.

Ryan Newman – Newman collected his first top-five finish of 2016 by carefully managing his fuel load. He was one of a handful of teams able to stretch the final pit stop until the end, and he was rewarded with a long overdue decent finish. The team has started to turn its season around in recent weeks, and results are starting to flow their direction. Kentucky is a perfect example of its progress. The car was average to slow in practice, but the team didn't rest and continued to fight to score its best finish of the year. Success in this series takes as much luck and tenacity as it does raw speed, and Newman is starting to show that tenacity.

DOWNGRADE

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson's slump extended another week due to yet another battle with a loose handling racecar. The weekend started poorly for the No. 48 when the team was forced to a backup car following a practice crash. Similarly, Johnson got loose and crashed early Saturday night, which is becoming the hallmark of his 2016 season. The damage extended a stretch where Johnson has finished in the top 10 just twice in a span of 11 races. New Hampshire will be another opportunity for redemption, though. Johnson has three wins and 19 top-10s from 28 starts at the track but desperately needs a trouble-free race to starting breaking free of the black cloud stalking him.

Joey Logano – The Kentucky night didn't last long for Logano either. First he tapped the wall while racing with teammate Keselowski, but then he blew a front tire not too long afterwards. The tire failure damage was comprehensive and forced the car to go straight to the garage for repair. Despite the team working to make repairs, too much time was lost and the car never returned to the track. While Kentucky was a significant disappointment for the team, coming to New Hampshire may shine some hope on the situation. Logano has three consecutive top-10 finishes at the track and has two wins from 15 starts. If the team can overcome last week's issues, there's plenty of time to recover before the Chase begins.

Chase Elliott – Elliott was involved in a crash for the second week in a row in Kentucky. He was racing on the outside during a restart and was collected by a loose Ryan Blaney, which sent both cars spinning into the wall. Elliott is fighting to remain in contention for a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup but cannot afford too many more instances like he has endured in the last three races. He has two top-10s in two Xfinity starts at New Hampshire and would breathe a lot easier if he could grab that first career victory. The pressure will only increase as the schedule rolls by, especially if his three-race stretch of finishes outside of the top 20 continue.

Ryan Blaney – Ford-powered teams seemed to be lacking the power necessary to be the favorites in Kentucky. Blaney was among the best of those Ford-powered cars, but contact in an early pit stop and then getting loose on a later restart proved to be his undoing. The young driver lost control while running three-wide and spun into the wall, collecting Elliott along the way. Blaney is another driver working to remain in Chase contention without having a win to his credit. Unfortunately, another stretch of four race finishes outside of the top 15 won't help that dream come true. Blaney has one Sprint Cup start at New Hampshire in this race last season. He started that race 16th and finished 23rd.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Martin Truex Jr. – In the closing miles of Saturday night's Quaker State 400 it appeared as though Truex had overcome a pit penalty to put himself in position to capitalize on other cars low on fuel. Unfortunately, things weren't meant to be. Inexplicably, with a two-lap advantage on fuel, the team decided to pit for a splash of gas. The decision was an ultra-conservative call, especially from a team that's already locked into the Chase. As a result of that decision the No. 78 went from an almost certain victory to just a 10th-place finish. Saturday night may go down as one of crew chief Cole Pearn's biggest head scratchers. Strategy has proven once again to be the weakest link in the No. 78's armor.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only NASCAR Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire NASCAR fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
NASCAR Barometer: Christopher Bell Wins Rain Shortened Coca-Cola 600
NASCAR Barometer: Christopher Bell Wins Rain Shortened Coca-Cola 600
NASCAR and F1 DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Coca-Cola 600 and Monaco Grand Prix
NASCAR and F1 DFS: PrizePicks Selections for the Coca-Cola 600 and Monaco Grand Prix
NASCAR DFS: Coca-Cola 600
NASCAR DFS: Coca-Cola 600
NASCAR DFS Trucks: North Carolina Education Lottery 200
NASCAR DFS Trucks: North Carolina Education Lottery 200