(September 17, 2011)
JOLIET, Ill.—A full schedule of double-duty driving didn’t hurt Brad Keselowski, who won Saturday’s Dollar General 300 Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway in a prelude to his debut Sunday in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Keselowski won his third Nationwide race of the season and the 15th of his career, cruising to a decisive victory over Carl Edwards, whose chances at a victory evaporated when his No. 60 Ford ran out of fuel moments before a scheduled pit stop on Lap 124 of 200.
Polesitter Brian Scott came home third, followed by Aric Almirola and Sam Hornish Jr. in a race that saw 10 cars finish on the lead lap. Series points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. held the top spot in the standings with an eighth-place finish.
Keselowski, who qualified sixth for the Cup race before taking the green later in the afternoon, held a 10-second lead over Edwards after a round of green-flag pit stops late in the race and cruised through the final 30 laps.
“It’s a great booster to get a win before going into the Chase,” Keselowski said. “It was great execution today. That’s what it takes to win right now. Our Dodges are fast, and today we just executed really well and did what it takes.”
Asked what might carry over into Sunday’s Cup race, Keselowski said, “There’s always the confidence—that’s the biggest thing.”
During the early and middle portions of the race, Keselowski and Edwards—the only Chase drivers in the field—took turns dominating.
Keselowski wrested the lead from Scott on Lap 2 and stayed out front—with the exception of one lap under caution—until Edwards passed him in traffic on Lap 90.
“I’m going to take every one of those freakin’ lapped cars and wreck ’em,” Keselowski vented, after one of the back markers failed to give him a lane to pass and facilitated Edwards’ move to the lead.
By the time Keselowski made a green-flag pit stop for tires and fuel on Lap 115, Edwards had extended his advantage to three seconds. Edwards waited until Lap 124 to pit—one lap too long, as it turned out.
Edwards ran out of fuel on the way to his pit stall, and by the time the crew completed his service and his engine refired, he was nine seconds behind Keselowski and in fifth place when the cycle of stops was complete.
“They told me to pit, and I was coming down the back straightaway, and I ran out of fuel,” Edwards said. “So it took us a little longer in the pits. The guys did a really good job of keeping it running and got us back out there, and then we had a really long green-flag run (131 laps).
“I think our car was fast enough. I would have really liked the opportunity to go up there and race Brad. We just didn’t get that caution.”
Edwards immediately began to chip away at Keselowski’s advantage, narrowing the margin to 6.188 seconds by Lap 141. Later in the run, however, Edwards’ charge stalled, and on Lap 155, he was running third behind Keselowski and Scott, 5.635 seconds behind the leader.