NASCAR

NXS: Keselowski, two wins in two races

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Keselowski goes two for two in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2018

Outlasting a rain delay and an overtime finish, Keselowski won the Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday afternoon. His victory was his second in only two starts thus far in the 2018 NXS season.

Backed by popular demand, NASCAR has continued to increase the number of NXS races that exclude full time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers. For drivers who are climbing the series’ all-time wins list, this policy has significantly reduced their opportunity to build upon that tally. This victory was Keselowski’s 38th, tying him with Carl Edwards for fourth all-time. Though he’s a distant 53 wins away from the record – held by Kyle Busch – he’s now only 11 wins away from second place, Mark Martin.

Of the six drivers to lead the 200 lap race, Keselowski led the second most, for 77 laps. Busch led for 93 circuits around the 1.5 mile track, but on a lap-162 restart he got loose when diving under Dylan Lupton between the front stretch dog-legs. Busch suffered moderate damage to the left side of his No. 18 Toyota Camry when he collided with Chase Briscoe on the driver’s side. Busch went a lap down but by way of the lucky dog, he was able to salvage a top-10.

“So far it’s been a great week,” said Keselowski, who’s team owner, Roger Penske was selected as one of five 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees. “I couldn’t ask for a much better start for Memorial Day weekend than to bring home a win.”

Keselowski thought “it was definitely a perseverance day. It was brutally hot out there, the humidity was just killer. I usually don’t get that hot in a race car but it was smoking out there. I know there was a couple of times where I swear it was the inside of the car that was burning from the water and humidity. That’s just part of the challenge of racing on days like this and I’m glad to bring it home first, that’s for sure.

At a speed of 184.383 mph, Keselowski was the fastest qualifier for the Alsco 300. Photo by Boyd Adams.

Keselowski’s winning crew chief, Brian Wilson said his race “strategy was kind of all over the place,” saying “it was definitely an up and down day for” his NXS team. They led laps early but after taking slight body damage during the second stage, the team had to do something unique to gain track position.

“To be honest with you,” said Wilson, ” when we pitted last for tires, I didn’t know that it was the right call, I kind of regretted it at that point. We talked about doing the opposite of the leaders and I knew that that was the right call, at that point but I was really hoping it was going to be those guys pitting and we would have a set of tires to put on later on because we seemed to be a really good short run car; but with the way the circumstances played out, the red flag, the multiple cautions, it seemed like it equalized when those guys took their tires.”

Xfinity regulars get beat by “old cup guy”

Third place finisher, Christopher Bell said, “the old cup guy beat us,” and he may have bad luck to thank. With two laps to go a large piece of metal flew of a lapped car on the exit of turn-four. The sizable chunk of debris came to rest above the first dotted line – NASCAR had no choice but to throw a caution.

“I was just heartbroken whenever I saw that piece of debris fly off those lapped cars,” said Bell. “Felt like we were starting to make some runs there. I think we were coming to two to go and I was getting the top going pretty good in (turns) one and two so felt like I was going to have a shot at him if the yellow didn’t come out and then obviously when the yellow came out, I did have a shot at him and just didn’t execute on that last restart.

Inside fifteen laps to go, Custer pushes Keselowski to the lead on a restart. Photo by Boyd Adams.

On that final, overtime restart, Cole Custer pushed Keselowski clear to the lead. Custer knew it would “be crazy” when the green flag dropped. What was important, he said, was “to get momentum and try and get a run … get yourself cleared and get yourself some clean air.”

Custer did his part by clearing Bell, which he considered “pretty tough, but the No. 22 obviously had the most clean air there so they won.”

Getting clean air can mean more than a precise adjustment by a crew chief. “Qualifying seventh, and starting on the bottom” meant Bell “fought dirty air for the entire race.” Bell said he “could never really break through.”

“I felt like our Rheem Camry was capable of running in the top-two or three all day long but just, seemed like every time I’d lose a couple of spots on the restart and I’d just be buried and have to climb my way up through there. Felt like our car was good we just never really had the opportunity to show how good it was until right there at the end.”

On the topic of clean air, Custer said, “when we had clean air it was huge, I mean, it was a big difference compared to the middle of the pack, so that was the biggest thing.”

The pair of young drivers were chasing Keselowski through the final restarts. Keselowski had older tires but six cautions, over the final 52 laps, kept re-racking the field, preventing Bell and Custer from building up momentum and getting the runs they needed. “I think me and Cole were on the same strategy,” Bell said, “and we probably had the winning strategy, we just didn’t get it done.

Custer would also muse, “how the cautions fell didn’t really work for our strategy but it is what it is and we’ll just go to the next one.”

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