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FORT WORTH, Texas - Brad Keselowski played to his strengths Saturday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway, and the result is a NASCAR Nationwide Series statistic that continues to impress.
Keselowski's victory in the ninth annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge was his first at TMS but his sixth in 14 starts this season _ a stat that even Brad can’t shrug-off.
“I don’t really like stats because I feel like you can twist stats to your favor and they don’t really tell the whole story. If there’s one that I do like, that’s it,” said Keselowski, who took the lead from fellow Sprint Cup Series regular Denny Hamlin with 14 laps to go in the 200-lapper around the high-banked, 1.5-mile TMS quadoval. “The car has been really strong this year and that’s something that will really stick out for me.”
Overall, Ford has won 14 NNS races, eclipsing its total from 2011 and leaving the Blue Oval only two shy of the all-time Ford Racing record of 16 series wins set in 2002. That’s another set of stats that Keselowski couldn’t overlook.
“I think Ford has an excellent package for this Nationwide side,” said Keselowski, who celebrated with a series of Star-Spangled donut burnouts. “A lot of that credit goes to Doug Yates and his group at Roush Yates Engines, which I think is kind of another story about the potential that the Ford product has in being in the first year together. I want to see things get stronger.
“Those are the things I look at. I don’t really sit and count the win totals and that. I enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, but I’m interested in doing the best I can every time I get behind the wheel. You try as a driver to out-pace your equipment. That’s what I take pride in. I think there’s more to the story than winning percentage.”
All that said, only 2013 World Series MVP David “Big Papi” Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox has been hotter of late than Keselowski, who led six times for a race-high 106 laps in his No. 22 Discount Tire Ford Mustang fielded by Penske Racing.
“I don’t know if that is fair to say about myself,” said Keselowski, who finished second in the April NNS here. “I think that this particular track I finally found what I need as a driver to run well here and be competitive. I think that Phoenix as well, that track I look for us to be exceptionally strong at. We have hit what we need to be competitive on both the Cup and Nationwide programs and to really win-out the next few races. That said, there are still weaknesses in my game that I realize and thankfully those are past us for the season.”
Hamlin, who finished 0.980-seconds behind Keselowski, led five times for 45 laps in his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing.
Meanwhile, Sam Hornish Jr. came from a lap down after an early-race incident with a pit commitment cone to finish third and pull two points closer to Austin Dillon in their squabble for the NNS driver’s championship. Hornish, driver of the No. 12 Wurth Ford, trails Dillon and the No. 3 AdvoCare Chevrolet Camaro by six points (1,107-1,101) heading to the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway next weekend.
“We did what we could do. We took care of ourselves,” said Hornish, who is losing his ride with team-owner Roger Penske at season’s end. “We had a decent run. We came back when it didn’t look like we would gain points for quite a bit of the race. I was thinking that we would gain three today. But then I didn’t realize that he (Dillon) led a lap.
“I thought that we were going to chunk three off at a time. I’m really looking forward to going to Phoenix. I love that track and have a lot of good memories there (from the IndyCar Series). We’ll see what happens. We didn’t lose any (points) and that’s the key thing. If we can take one or two off the following weekend that puts the pressure on him. He doesn’t just have to finish within a couple spots of us then, he’ll have to beat us.”
Fourth-place finisher Matt Kenseth made his presence felt by leading 42 laps in his No. 18 Game Stop/Battlefield 4 Toyota, including a stretch from Laps 131-155. Hamlin, Kenseth’s JGR teammate, then locked into a duel with Keselowski at the point until the latter took the lead for the final time through Turn 1 on Lap 186.
“The No. 18 (Kenseth) and the No. 20 (Hamlin) were the cars up-front and we kind of shuffled at that point,” said Keselowski, whose car was prepared by crew chief Jeremy Bullins. “I think the team did a great job of getting us to where we could utilize our strengths of having a fast car and being able to get through traffic fairly well. We utilized those strengths to perfection at the end to get back by the No. 18 and the No. 20, and I think that was some pretty good Texas side-by-side racing.
“This track in particular with the asphalt and (Goodyear Eagle) tire combination made the cars really squirrely, which I think is great. It falls right to my style. You have to be really up on the wheel and really smooth and really understand your car and how to drive it to run well here. To me, that’s what racing is supposed to be about. I hope they never have to repave this place. I’m starting to really take a liking to it.”
Hornish rallied from a pit lane pass-through penalty for his commitment line violation that dropped him from the top-five to 17th and a lap down.
“Pit road comes up pretty quick and I got a little locked-up,” said Sam, who posted his third top-10 finish in 11 races at TMS. “As soon as I got on the brakes and did everything I could do to try to get it whoaed-up I had a choice of hitting the cone or the back of the No. 54 car (Kyle Busch’s Toyota). I figured the cone would hurt the front of my car a lot less. It was a great recovery by everyone that works on the Wurth Ford Mustang and we did what we needed to do today. Hats off to everyone at Penske Racing and it‘s good to see our teammate go to Victory Lane. It just wasn’t enough for us today.”
In the Owner Points championship, Roger Penske’s organization has a 26-point advantage (1,230-1,204) over J.D. Gibbs & Co. with two races remaining.
BK also paces Happy Hour – Brad Keselowski began his Saturday by sharing the top of the speed chart following the afternoon’s final practice for the AAA Texas 500, Round 8 of NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The reigning Cup champion, Keselowski toured the 1.5-mile TMS quadoval in 28.506-seconds at 189.434 mph _ same numbers posted by current point-leader Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing. Both drivers chose to run a single lap during the 50-minute session, following a similar save-the-equipment strategy from the first, 55-minute practice. Keselowski ran a combined three miles during the practices. Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot “Let’s Do This” Toyota Camry, ran one lap in each practice.
In contrast, five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson _ tied with Kenseth atop the standings _ ran 26 laps in the second practice to rank 16th after a top speed of 186.722 mph in his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS fielded by Hendrick Motorsports . Johnson ran two laps in the first session.
Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion fielded by Penske Racing, will start Sunday’s 334-lap/501-mile race on the outside of Row 1 and next to pole-sitter Carl Edwards of Roush Fenway Racing. Joining Bad Brad among the top-10 during the final practice were RFR’s Greg Biffle at 187.344 mph in the No. 16 3M Hire Our Heroes Ford in ninth and Edwards, 10th after lapping at 187.182 mph in the No. 99 Aflac Ford.
KESELOWSKI KEEPS 22 TEAM AND FORD ON NATIONWIDE ROLL
· Brad Keselowski’s win in today’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 200 was his sixth NASCAR Nationwide Series victory of the season and the first NNS Texas win of his career.
· The win was the 12th for the 22 team with four different drivers.
· Overall, Ford has won 14 NNS races, eclipsing its total from 2011 and is only two shy of the all- time Ford Racing record of 16 series wins (2002).
FORD FINISHING RESULTS
1st Brad Keselowski
3rd Sam Hornish Jr.
11th Trevor Bayne
14th Michael Annett
17th Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
31st Travis Pastrana