LOUDON, N.H. — His weekend sweep complete, Brad Keselowski pulled into Victory Lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway following his dominant win in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301, climbed out of his car, and was handed a broom.
Keselowski, who won Saturday’s Nationwide Series race from the pole position, noticed several empties of his sponsor’s product, Redd’s Apple Ale, littering the ground after the contents were sprayed and the cans strewn during Team Penske’s celebration.
After doing a bit of housekeeping, Keselowski proceeded to paint the town Redd after he clinched one of the 16 berths in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Keselowski led seven times for a race-high 138 laps in his No. 2 Ford to record his third series win of the season, holding off the No. 18 Toyota of Kyle Busch in a green-white-checkered finished that extended the 301-lap race by four laps.
“This was just such a phenomenal weekend,’’ said Keselowski, who recorded his second Nationwide-Sprint Cup sweep this season, also winning both races at Las Vegas. “These don’t happen that often, and that’s what makes it special, and you try to appreciate them and enjoy them and hope that there’s more, but not count on it.
“These are big deals, winning races at the Sprint Cup level, sweeping a weekend, and it’s all possible because of the hard work and effort from everyone at Team Penske. I can drive the heck out of the car, but you can only do so much. You’ve got to have a good horse, and we had that today.’’
Keselowski’s muscle car time and again flexed its strength on restarts. Deploying a four-tire pit strategy, which seemed to go against the competition, Keselowski gave up track position each time he pitted, but wasted little time regaining it — and then some — in a car that encountered little opposition once it was packed with fuel and shod with fresh rubber.
“When you have cars like we did today, it’s almost like your competition is always going to do the opposite of what you do,’’ said Paul Wolfe, Keselowski’s crew chief. “And that kind of happened the first stop when we went with four [tires] and everyone did two. Really wasn’t sure how that was going to all work out and unfold, but I think it was within 10 laps that we were back in the lead.’’
No one had an answer for Keselowski, as he consistently picked off cars charging from the middle of the pack to the front, doing so four times.
Asked if he had anything for Keselowski, Busch replied, “Oh, no. I don’t think anybody did. Denny [Hamlin] was the best [Joe] Gibbs car, so he probably had a better shot at him than any of us did, but it seemed like he stalled out in third there on that last run trying to get up there.’’
Hamlin was running third behind Jeff Gordon and trying to conserve fuel to make it to the finish. But when Justin Allgaier’s Turn 4 crash brought out the race’s seventh and final caution on Lap 299, Hamlin pitted for a last splash of gas and wound up finishing eighth.
Busch, who won the pole position and led the first 62 laps, finished runner-up for the third consecutive time at NHMS, also being bridesmaid to Brian Vickers last July and Matt Kenseth in last September’s Chase race at the Magic Mile.
Sprint Cup rookie Kyle Larson was third, while Kenseth and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five.
“Watching Brad today, I got to see it from up top,’’ said car owner Roger Penske, who was not present for Keselowski’s victory at Kentucky on June 28 but flew in from Iowa after Saturday night’s IndyCar race. “At the end of the day, you can’t have a great car if you don’t have the best driver, and I can tell you there was nobody that could beat him, and it was just great execution from everybody.’’
That was never more evident than on Lap 250, when Keselowski pitted as the leader and Wolfe made the decision to go for two tires instead of four. The rest of the field, meanwhile, took no tires.
Keselowski, as a result, restarted in ninth. But he wasted little time charging to the front, making a bold inside move on the front stretch when the race resumed on Lap 254 to pick up four positions and climb to fifth place by the time he exited Turn 1. Fifteen laps later, Keselowski wrested the lead from Gordon for good, then held off Busch.
It was a final test for Keselowski in a weekend in which he also had to hold off a challenge from Busch in his Sta-Green 200 Nationwide victory Saturday.
“This might only be a 301-lap race but it felt like a 1,000-lap race,’’ Keselowski said. “Every yellow kept coming I think with 40 laps on the tires, which put the field in a position to take two, to take none, to take four. No matter what call we made, it was going to be a struggle, and that’s always frustrating because there was no right or wrong call, I guess, and that’s really tough on Paul.’’
When Allgaier’s crash produced the final yellow with two laps remaining in regulation, Keselowski said, “You’re like, ‘Geez, can I just catch a break?’ That stuff wears on you mentally, and yeah, it did feel like a very long race. But when you get into Victory Lane all that stuff starts to wear off and you can soak in what’s gone on and you’re able to close it out.”
At that point if there were any lingering frustrations, Keselowski simply swept them under the rug.Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.