BRISTOL, Tenn. – Brad Keselowski used Bristol Motor Speedway last fall to cement his spot in NASCAR’s championship race.
Back at the track Sunday, Keselowski again made his way to Victory Lane.
And he again began to think about a Sprint Cup title.
Keselowski led a career-best and race-high 232 laps, then held off Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth on a late restart to cruise to his first victory of the season.
“What can I say? I love Bristol and Bristol loves me,” said Keselowski, who immediately began taking pictures in Victory Lane to send to Twitter.
“The goal at Penske Racing is to win a Sprint Cup championship, and one win certainly doesn’t achieve that, but it’s a great step.”
The Chase for the Sprint Cup championship has a wild-card provisional for the winningest driver not otherwise eligible. Keselowski’s win at Bristol last August was his third of the season and gave him the provisional that allowed him to race for the title.
Now, just a month into the season, he’s focused on collecting victories.
“One win is good; two wins is really good,” Keselowski said. “We need to keep winning races to lock ourselves in the Chase, but heck, I’d rather just go into the Chase in the top spot. If we run like we have the last few weeks, we’ve got as good a shot as anybody else.”
Keselowski narrowly escaped an early seven-car accident, worked his way toward the front, then settled in for a tight battle with Kenseth over the final third of the race. Kenseth beat Keselowski on one of their restarts – fans complained instantly on Twitter that Kenseth had jumped the start – and Keselowski had to run him back down to reclaim the lead.
But a late caution when Tony Stewart hit the wall put Keselowski’s win in jeopardy.
“I’ve got no clue what to do here,” he radioed crew chief Paul Wolfe, who decided to leave Keselowski on the track and not bring him in to the pits under caution.
Then Keselowski had to decide which lane to choose for the final restart, and his decision to take the outside may have sealed the win.
“I knew as long as I could beat him on the first lap, I knew I had a good enough car and I’m a good enough driver to win,” Keselowski said. “Matt didn’t make it easy. That’s his job, to not make it easy on me.
“He raced me hard; I raced him hard, rubbed a little bit. That’s good racing.”
Kenseth settled for second place, while Martin Truex Jr. was third.