Brad Keselowski had fuel to spare for a couple of victory burnouts.
Those few splashes of gas left down the stretch were just enough for a checkered flag — and a sign Keselowski is a championship favorite.
With other contenders battling fuel woes and limping toward pit road, Keselowski had enough gas in the No. 2 Dodge to win Sunday at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Del., for his second victory in three weeks.
Keselowksi’s stout start to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship allowed him to swipe the points lead from Jimmie Johnson.
Keselowski holds a five-point lead over Johnson as the Chase shifts to Talladega Superspeedway. Keselowski, who won the Chase opener at Chicagoland, has deftly avoided the famed Big Ones that strike the Alabama track to win twice there in seven career starts.
He held off a late push from runner-up Jeff Gordon to match Denny Hamlin for the season victory lead with five.
“I can’t state loudly enough how much longer this battle is,” Keselowski said.
Keselowski, Johnson and Hamlin have staked their claim through the first three of 10 Chase races as the drivers to beat.
Johnson and Hamlin each led a chunk of laps on the mile concrete oval, but failed to stretch their fuel to the end. Johnson, who has seven career wins at Dover, was ordered to back off the gas and salvaged a fourth-place finish. Hamlin pitted with 10 laps left, opening the door for Keselowski, and denying him his first win at the Monster Mile. Hamlin faded to eighth after starting from the pole.
“They’re not going to beat us on the track, that’s just plain and simple,” Hamlin said. “We’re just too fast right now and I feel like everything is going well. These strategy games, and the way these cautions are falling, it’s ill-timed.”
There was a caution at the end of a cycle of green-flag pit stops only 69 laps into the race that quickly dropped drivers a lap back. Amazingly, most of the field couldn’t get that lap back, and only six drivers finished on the lead lap.
Non-Chase drivers Mark Martin finished third and Carl Edwards was fifth. Kyle Busch led a race-high 302 laps until his own battles with the pump cost him what would have been a nice victory in a season where he failed to make the Chase. He finished seventh.
There were some rough finishes for the rest of the Chase field. Martin Truex Jr. was sixth, Clint Bowyer was ninth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. 11th, Kevin Harvick 13th, Kasey Kahne 15th, Greg Biffle 16th, Tony Stewart 20th, and Matt Kenseth was knocked out of the race and was 35th. There are seven races left in the Chase.
“By no means, do I feel like we’re the favorite,” Keselowski said. “Certainly, we’re not the underdog.”
Nope, not with a complete team effort turning the No. 2 Dodge into a regular contender to win.
Johnson had his record eighth win at Dover in sight until he was forced to start saving fuel with about 15 laps left. Crew chief Chad Knaus told Johnson to yield the lead so the No. 48 could at least salvage a top-five.
“I wish we could have raced for it,” said Johnson, a five-time Cup champion.
Antron Brown raced to his sixth Top Fuel victory of the season, winning the NHRA Midwest Nationals in Madison, Ill, to increase his championship points lead.
Brown beat championship rival Spencer Massey in the final round and moved 21 points ahead with three races left in the Full Throttle Countdown to the Championship playoffs.
Brown had a run of 3.766 seconds at 325.22 mph, while Massey trailed with a 3.812 at 324.05.
Jack Beckman won in Funny Car, Erica Enders in Pro Stock, and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle.