Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, and Denny Hamlin had the best cars at Dover International Speedway but it was Brad Keselowski and his No. 2 Penske Racing team that played the fuel mileage game to steal his fifth win of the season and second of the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Keselowski took over the points lead and now holds a five point lead over Johnson.
Johnson, Busch, Hamlin, Keselowski and all the other lead lap cars pitted for fuel and tires under the fourth caution with 90 laps to go. Busch and Hamlin decided not to push their Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas on fuel mileage and pitted for a splash of gas with less than 10 laps to go. Johnson and Keselowski decided to back off running full throttle to save fuel and make the finish. It worked for both of them but Johnson faded all the way to fourth while Keselowski was able to capture the win.
"Not east, not easy," Keselwoski said about saving fuel to win. "But you know the Dodge team and Penske Engines has done a phenomenal job with these engines and managing the power and fuel balance. This has been one of our weakest tracks. We raced up front all day but might have not been in the lead but we hung around the top five and just kept creeping around, creeping around and when you do that you put yourself in position for good things to happen."
Hamlin started on the pole after winning qualifying on Saturday. He led the first 34 laps until Kyle Busch passed him for the lead while working lap 35 of 400. From there Busch would dominate for much of the rest of the race.
The first caution for debris in turn three from the right front fender of J.J. Yeley's No. 36 car which exploded a right front tire was a race changer because it fell on lap 69 in the midst of green flag pit stops. Only Busch, Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Keselowski did not pit yet and were on the lead lap. Carl Edwards took a wave around to get back onto the lead lap and Bobby Labonte was awarded the lucky dog to make eight lead lap cars. Twenty-two other cars took the wave around to get back to one lap down.That left seven Chase drivers one lap down.
Busch would then dominate and lead until a round of green flag stops that took place between laps 147 and 151 for the leaders. Keselowski had a 24 second stop due to a borken jack which almost made him fall off the lead lap but he was able to stay in front of Busch when on lap 179 the second caution of the race came out for debris in turn three. Edwards got the free pass to get back onto the lead lap again and Hamlin took two tires on the pit stops to get the lead away from Busch.
That was short lived because Busch passed him on the lap 185 restart. On lap 194 Chase driver Greg Biffle ran into an issue running one lap down in 12th. He had a lose wheel and had to make a green flag stop. Biffle would end up finishing three-laps down in 16th.
On lap 246 with Busch leading still, caution three came out for debris in turn 3. Busch held the lead on pit road but Johnson was able to pass Hamlin for second. Kasey Kahne got the free pass to get back on the lead lap and gave himself a chance to win.
Then on lap 309 Matt Kenseth saw his 2012 championship chances end. He broke the rear track bar on his No. 17 causing the fourth caution. This was the caution that set up the pits stops with 90 laps to go that made it a fuel mileage race. Johnson was able to beat Busch off pit road to take over the race lead and Mark Martin was the free pass driver.
On the second lap back green Kenseth again spun with the track bar issues not fully fixed. This time he nosed his car into the inside wall and brought out the fifth caution. He would go behind the wall to make repairs and ended up 35th. Johnson, Busch, Hamlin, Keselowski, Bowyer, and Edwards stayed on the track while Gordon, Kahne, and Marin pitted to top off with fuel. Martin Truex Jr. also got fuel and back on the lead lap in tenth with the lucky dog.
The stage was set for the fuel mileage gambles to play out from there. Johnson would lead from the lap 323 restart until lap 354 when he would start saving gas and let Busch pass him for the lead. On lap 362 Kahne pitted for a vibration and gave up his chance at a win. The team left a lug nut off on that stop as well forcing another penalty. He ended up finishing in 15th three laps down.
Bowyer gave up a chance at stretching his fuel and pitted on lap 375. He ended up finishing one lap down in ninth. Busch led until lap 390 when he finally came in for gas and Hamlin followed on the next lap. They finished seventh and eighth one lap down. That gave the lead to Keselowski who had worked by Johnson. Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin were charging hard as they knew they did not have to save gas like Keselowski and Johnson.
In the end Keselowski worked fuel mileage magic again and held off Gordon who took second. Martin placed third with Johnson fourth, Edwards fifth, and Truex the last car on the lead lap in sixth. Busch, Hamlin, Bowyer, and Joey Logano rounded out the top ten. Other Chase drivers were Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 11th, Kevin Harvick in 13th, Kasey Kahne in 15th, Greg Biffle in 16th, Tony Stewart in 20th, and Matt Kenseth in 35th. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 12th in his second Sprint Cup Series start of the 2012 season in the No. 6 Roush car. Danica Patrick took home 28th.
The points standings are as follows with seven races left in the season. Keselowski leads by five over Johnson and 16 over Hamlin. Fourth is Bowyer 25 points back. Stewart and Kahne are both 32 points back and Earnhardt Jr. is seventh 39 off the lead. Eighth is Truex 42 points behind with Harvick in ninth 46 back. Jeff Gordon moved up to tenth but is 48 points behind. The Roush duo of Biffle and Kenseth and 11th and 12th. Biffle is 57 back and Kenseth is 72.
Next Sunday the Sprint Cup Series will run Chase race number four at Talladega Superspeedway.
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