The tables were turned Saturday night. After winning races on fuel mileage earlier in the season Brad Keselowski watched his rivals stretch out their gas to the end during the Sprint Cup series Bank of America 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Clint Bowyer won the event followed closely by Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. Keselowski finished 11th.
The key came on lap 275 when Keselowski, whose crew chief Paul Wolfe normally calculates fuel mileage to perfection, ran out while leading. Keselowski was able to coast to the pits, but his chances of winning were gone. Fortunately it wasn’t long before the field started cycling through a series of green flag pit stops. It wasn’t fortunate enough to allow Keselowski to regain the lap he lost when he ran out of fuel, but it did keep him in touch with the field. BK finished the race in 11th. Combined with the second and third place finish of Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin, Keselowski saw his lead in the points cut in half.
View slideshow: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, October 13, 2012
Here’s how the Chase field fared Saturday night:
Brad Keselowski (2,214 points) lead a race high 139 laps Saturday night and looked to be firmly in control and well on his way to a win. The fuel mileage mistake did cost him the race, but it wasn’t the disaster some have speculated. BK leads the points by 7, half of what he had when the day started, but had it not been for the single miscalculation, BK could have probably cruised to victory. Keselowski remains the driver to beat in the Chase; the seven points he leads with are still better then the five he led with after Dover.
“This 2 team, I know I speak for myself and I think it speaks for everybody else, we’re not going to play defense,” Keselowski said. “We’re not going to put the prevent defense out there. We’re going to go at you and we’re going to try to sack the quarterback every time and sometimes you’re going to miss and they’re going to get a big play off. We’ve hit ‘em a lot. That’s why we’re in the point’s lead and we’re going to keep after ‘em.”
Jimmie Johnson (2,207 points, -7) was able to finish third Saturday night by stretching out his fuel. Earlier in the event, Johnson led and overall led 56 laps on the night. On lap 228 Johnson fell back when he opted to take four tires during a pit stop while those in front of him took only two. Johnson restarted in 11th spot but was soon able to make his way forward. Just after Keselowski had his fuel problems, Johnson too ran out of gas; however Johnson had enough speed to quickly make it to pit road. After his last stop, Johnson began to conserve gas. That move paid off as Johnson was able to come home third. It was his third finish inside the top five in the Chase races and sent the message that he is far from out of it.
Denny Hamlin (2,199 points, -15) was able to make up five points with a second place finish. Hamlin looked strong Saturday night leading 36 laps. After the near catastrophe of Talladega the week before at Talladega, Hamlin and his team played the fuel mileage gamble and won. Hamlin is still well in the mix moving forward.
Clint Bowyer (2,186 points, -28) +1 has never been known for his prowess on 1.5 mile tracks However that all changed Saturday night. He first took the lead on lap 275 when Keselowski ran out of fuel. He was in contention nearly the entire event taking the lead for the final time in the closing stages and holding on for his third win of the season. The win was his first on a 1.5 mile track and with Kansas Speedway, another 1.5 mile track coming up this week, Bowyer might just surprise again.
Kasey Kahne (2,179 points -35) -1 was a favorite coming into Saturday night having won the May race at Charlotte. He did run well especially early in the event when he was as high as third. The team was never able to find the speed to have a shot for the win though and in the end, Kahne faded and finished eighth. He fell one spot in the standings and will need some stellar runs in the coming weeks if he hopes to get back in the mix.
Greg Biffle (2,171 points, -43) +3 helped his cause greatly Saturday night. Coming into the Chase, Biffle was one of the favorites. His performance however hasn’t lived up to the expectations. Saturday night was different. Biffle led four times for 71 laps and finished fourth. He moved three spots, but at 43 points out of first it may be too little too late for Biffle to recover enough to make a run at the title.
Martin Truex Jr. (2,165 points, -49) +1 wasn’t excepted to be much of a threat for a win Saturday night and indeed that was true. He ran as high as third for a brief time. In the end though, despite not having the speed to contend for the win, he did hold on for a tenth place finish his best run at Charlotte since 2009.
Tony Stewart (2,164 points, -50) -1 had troubles early and never really recovered. After starting 32nd, Stewart ran into trouble early damaging his Chevy on a restart on lap 16. He fell as far back as 36th and spent the rest of the race trying to recover. He was able to rally but finished 13th, one lap down in the end. It’s looking more and more like there will be no repeat for Stewart this season.
Jeff Gordon (2,164 points, -50) -3 has had an up and down Chase. Saturday night was a down one. Gordon never really had the speed to contend; that was compounded by a pit road speeding penalty on lap 220. He was credited for leading a lap during a caution period, but that was it for his highlights. Gordon finished 18th, the lowest of the Chase field. He fell 3 spots. Someone get the fork, Gordon appears done for a title quest this season.
Kevin Harvick (2,158 points, -56) +/-0 ran as high as third early in the going, but faded after that. By lap 256 Harvick was in 14th and calling his car ‘junk’. That sentiment kind of sums up his entire Chase. Harvick finished 16th and no doubt is ready to put Charlotte far behind him.
Matt Kenseth (2,147 points, -67) +1 started out in trouble, spinning on lap 12 to bring out the first caution of the race. He was able to get one of his two laps back on lap 226, but was never able to recover enough to be in contention. Kenseth did win at Talladega the week prior, and that might be the highlight of his 2012 Chase.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2,128 points, -86) -1 wasn’t even at the track Saturday night. After admitting that he was suffering the lingering effects of a concussion last week, Earnhardt was forced to sit out Charlotte and the upcoming race at Kansas.
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