AVONDALE, Ariz. – Brad Keselowski, driver of the Penske Racing No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS), finished sixth in the AdvoCare 500 – the second-to-last race in the 2012 Chase for the Championship – at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) on Sunday afternoon. Keselowski looked to have a car capable of contending for the race win, but was unable to make a late rally as the event ended with a controversial finish.
With the result, however, Keselowski reclaimed the series championship lead heading into next weekend’s season finale. Keselowski now holds a 20-point advantage over Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 car team in the Chase for the Championship standings entering next weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway as Johnson finished in the 32nd position on Sunday. Keselowski can clinch his first NSCS championship – and the first for Penske Racing – with a 15th-place result or better at Homestead.
Keselowski began Sunday’s race, scheduled for 312 laps, from the 14th position after posting a time of 26.350 seconds, or 136.622 miles per hour, around the one-mile PIR oval during the Friday afternoon qualifying session. This starting position placed him in the unfavorable outside line to start the race and, as a result, he dropped several spots before settling into the 16th position by the third lap. Keselowski quickly began to turn top-five lap times as he made his way through the field before the first caution flag of the day was displayed at lap 17. Crew chief Paul Wolfe called his driver down pit road for left-side tires and fuel at lap 18. Keselowski restarted the race from the 21st position on lap 21 as many competitors elected not to make their way to pit road.
Following the two-tire pit stop, Keselowski radioed that the handling on the Miller Lite Dodge was loose on corner entry and tight just before the center of the turns, but this didn’t prevent him from turning the fastest laps of anyone from laps 42-47. This speed resulted in Keselowski making his way into the top 10 before a lap 52 caution flag brought him down pit road for the second time on the day. This time Wolfe called for a four-tire stop and Keselowski returned to the action in the 12th position at lap 60.
During the third run of the day, Keselowski began to show the strength of the Miller Lite machine. Despite a tight-handling condition on the car, he was able to race his way into the top five at lap 126. Keselowski led his first lap of the race at lap 130 as green-flag pit stops began for the field. He made his stop one lap later for more four-tire service. As the pit stops cycled through, Keselowski emerged running in the fifth position.
As the race moved past the 200-lap mark, Keselowski had moved into second-place and was closing in on the race leader, Kyle Busch. After a multi-lap battle, Keselowski returned to the top spot at lap 233. At lap 235, series leader Johnson suffered a tire issue and made heavy contact with the outside wall to change the shape of the championship battle. Focused on securing the best finish possible, Keselowski made another visit to pit road under this caution period as Wolfe called for another routine four-tire and fuel pit stop. Keselowski returned to the track in the third position, but he was unable to make his way back to the lead for the rest of the event.
Over the final laps of the race, Keselowski did an outstanding job in managing his tires as several other drivers suffered issues on the recently-repaved PIR surface. On what was supposed to be the penultimate lap of the race, Keselowski had a close call on lap 311 when Jeff Gordon wrecked Clint Bowyer just a few feet in front of the Miller Lite Dodge. Following a lengthy red-flag period, the race resumed at lap 318 with Keselowski in the fifth position. An ensuing green-white-checkered flag finish featured another multi-car incident in overtime – one that did result in some damage to the Miller Lite Dodge – but Keselowski was able to make his way through to secure the sixth-place finish.
Penske Racing teammate, Sam Hornish Jr., finished 31st in Sunday’s AdvoCare 500.
“We survived and I’m proud of everyone on the Miller Lite team for that,” said Keselowski. “We had a great car and things just didn’t quite play to our strengths, but that’s okay. I felt very lucky to make it through all the cars today. Obviously there are no guarantees. We could go to Homestead and have the same problem (as Johnson) and Jimmie (Johnson) takes the point lead back over. No guarantees, but very proud to have that points lead heading into next week.”
With the championship battle coming down to the final event, Keselowski and the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge team will next race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, November 18 in the Ford 400. Coverage of the event will be seen live beginning at 2:00 pm EST on ESPN. The race will also be heard on the Motor Racing Network and Sirius Satellite Radio Channel 90.