Wurth Ford Survives Monster Mash for P6 Finish

Brad Keselowski predicted that Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism would be wild affair, and the No. 2 Wurth Ford Fusion driver couldn’t have been more correct.

The Monster Mile madness was in full effect, as the 400-lap event featured 12 cautions and an 18-car wreck, one machine shy of a Dover International Speedway track record. Kes led 49 laps but saw his hopes at victory take a hit after contact with Austin Dillon’s No. 3 busted a massive hole in the right-front fender of the Deuce, but some pit excellence and wreck avoidance allowed Brad to claim a sixth place result.

“This was one of those Dover races I don’t think anybody will forget any time soon,” Brad said afterward.

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Dover

Starting from P14, BK cleared two cars in the opening lap, bumping him up to 12th. Prior to the lap 40 competition caution, the No. 2 also went around Kasey Kahne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to crack the Top 10. In the early stages, Brad said his car was winning on entry, but losing in the center. The 2 Crew reacted by making a slight adjustment during a four-tire stop and gained their driver three spots leading to a P7 restart.

The Wurth Deuce lacked some short-run speed throughout the day, but it was outstanding on long runs, really coming to life about 20 laps in. Right on cue, roughly 20 laps into the second green-flag run, Brad passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. for seventh and Denny Hamlin for sixth.

“This is where everybody else starts to fall off and I don’t,” Brad said to his crew.

Brad was the fastest car on the track, but one thing did impede his progress on this run: vibrations—not from a loose wheel, but from a reaction between the tires, the low-downforce package and the rough Delaware concrete. The pace car was brought out once again at lap 119 when Matt DiBenedetto contacted the wall, allowing crew chief Paul Wolfe to call his driver down pit road and make an air pressure adjustment, in hopes of alleviating that tremendous vibration. Once again, the 2 Crew picked up another two spots in the process, boosting the Deuce up to fourth.

“I can barely see, Paul,” Brad radioed. “I have never see this track get this rough.”

2016 NASCAR Dover

Keselowski and the 2 Crew remained around the back half of the Top 10 for the next stage of the race, as the field around him rode the track position carousel. Alternating calls to take two or four tires, or to stay out altogether, kept the contenders coming and going, but Kes remained a staple in the Top 10. Then during a stop at lap 214, BK and PW played the game to perfection, as the 2 Crew replaced two right-side tires in just 5.7 seconds, shooting Brad out as the first car off pit road, only to line up second behind Hamlin who stayed out. With Brad restarting in the less than favorable bottom lane, Hamlin maintained the lead.

On this run Brad also waged the first of two terrific battles with eventual runner-up Kyle Larson. This time, BK held off the 23-year-old to remain in second going into the pits after a Michael Annett wreck at lap 226. This time, Kes stayed out, setting up another shot at Hamlin on a lap 231 restart. This time, Brad found the short-run strength he had been missing, clearing the 11 going into the first corner. He went on to lead the next 49 laps—the most he has led all season.

But Kes couldn’t sit back and enjoy his time out front. For roughly 30 of those laps Brad maintain just a half-second lead or less over Larson. The No. 42 had replaced four tires on its last stop and was faster than Brad’s No. 2, and Kes valiantly held him off for a long drive around Dover. Eventually, the 42 won out, as Brad allowed him by on the high side at lap 280. Just three laps later, Brad’s shot at victory was wiped away.

Dillon, who wrecked earlier and was more than 50 laps off pace, cut a tire just as Brad looked underneath him. The No. 3 bounced off the outside wall and right into the path of the Deuce. Before Brad could react, he plowed into the left rear of the No. 3 tearing away the Wurth Fusion’s right-front fender. Fortunately, BK kept control of his car, and the sheet metal didn’t tear into his tire, allowing him to hold on and remain in the Top 10 before the debris caution came at lap 288.

“Unfortunately we got caught up running second and leading a lot of laps and tore up the car. I guess the car in front of me had a flat tire and it just happened all too quick for me to do anything.”

Brad pitted from eighth but the team gave up all remaining track position to make repairs. Kes’ crew made quick work, replacing the right-front fender and securing it in time to keep Brad on the lead lap. Kes restarted 24th and immediately reported some handling issues.

“Really tight, I think the toe is knocked out a little,” BK reported.

Fortunately, the timing was perfect. The green-flag run lasted just six laps, enough time for Brad to gather information before more debris brought out another caution, giving the 2 Crew time to complete its repairs. During the caution, BK came in for repairs once more, again restarting right outside the Top 20 on lap 302—but most importantly, the 2 Crew, with the help of spotter Joey Meier, kept its machine on the lead lap.

That work proved invaluable when the complexion of the race changed dramatically and abruptly at lap 354. Brad was restarting in 25th, normally an unenviable position, but this time, one of safety. A transmission failure struck Jimmie Johnson in second place on a restart. The 10-time Dover winner stacked up nearly the entire field, starting with Martin Truex Jr. behind him and including nearly half of all the starting cars.

Meier was in Brad’s ear, telling him repeatedly to back it down, and the No. 2 Wurth driver did just that, stopping the Deuce just short of the carnage.

“I didn’t hit anything,” BK said. “I don’t know how I didn’t wreck. Thanks, Joey.”

After the dust settled and an 11:22 red flag was lifted, Brad moved all the way up to ninth. Not quite sure of the abilities his damaged car possessed, nor what was left of the damaged cars around him, Keselowski was initially conservative before charging back to the front. On lap 374 he passed Trevor Bayne, then Ryan Blaney on lap 390 for seventh. Appearing he would finish there, Brad took one more step on the final lap passing Hamlin for sixth.

“We caught some breaks with that big wreck which probably gave us five or six spots and then we clawed from there,” BK said. “We restarted ninth and drove up to sixth. It was very respectable. I am proud of my guys to recover to finish sixth at the end.”

In the end, everything was right for Matt Kenseth to claim his first victory of the season, holding off a charging Larson and Chase Elliott in a thrilling finish. Brad nabbed his seventh Top 10 finish of the year and his fourth straight result of 11th or better.

The Sprint Cup Series next races at home for drivers and crews at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the annual All-Star Race. With his contributions to the formatting, BK hopes to run strong once again on Saturday May 21 at 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

BACK IN THE BOOTH

Brad returned to the FOX Sports 1 booth to broadcast the XFINITY Series action at Dover. Kes called two heat races and 120 lap feature for the third time this season, alongside Adam Alexander and Michael Waltrip, and the trio were in for a great afternoon of racing.

Needing to work on his Sprint Cup car in Saturday’s final practice session, Kes cut it close to green flag time arriving to the booth. But he ditched the fire suit for a suit and tie and made it to the booth in time to provide his usual insights on racing. The 2010 NXS champion dished on several topics during the race—air impacting the ability to pass, managing tires, working strategy and more.

Meanwhile, Joey Logano piloted the No. 22 Fleetwood REV Group Mustang to a P7 result, losing some ground to the Owners’ Points leader, the JR Motorsports No. 88. In what is shaping up to be a transitional season, the Double Deuce currently sits ninth in Championship standings, 59 points from the lead. Michigan native Erik Jones drove to victory in the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 200 at Dover.

The XFINITY series is off next weekend and will return for the Hisense 300 in Charlotte on May 28.

TWO TOP 10S FOR TEAM BKR

Early afternoon rain washed out Truck Series qualifying, sending home Brad Keselowski Racing’s third entry: Austin Cindric’s No.2 PIRTEK F-150. Having the speed to make the 200 mile race, it was a frustrating time for the 17 year old driver.

BKR’s full-time drivers, Daniel Hemric and Tyler Reddick, did all they could to make up for it, though. The two started eighth and 16th respectively. By the time Austin Wayne Self brought out the first caution on lap 43, both crews decided to change tires on their trucks, resulting in both advancing up the running order with Hemric to P7 and Reddick to P8.

Another 10 laps later, a Brandon Brown spin triggered the second yellow of the evening, with both BKR drivers advancing a position each. The improving track position set the drivers and crew chiefs up for a strategy game, as during the lap 80 caution for a single truck incident, both the No. 19 and No. 29 took only two tires.

John Wes Townley, who stayed out, led the field to a lap 85 restart with Reddick second and Hemric third. Making quick work of JWT, Reddick zoomed by on the start to his stint of 39 consecutive laps out front. For Hemric, the two fresh tires didn’t agree with his No. 19 Autism Delaware/Oakmont Management Group F-150, as it struggled—dropping from third back outside the Top 10 to 14th. Hemric’s ninth-place result keeps him in Chase contention, currently in on points.

“We had a really fast truck at the beginning of the weekend but we just weren’t where we needed to be when it came time to race,” Hemric said. “Our guys took huge swings at our Ford F-150 and we had great pit stops all day, but our truck was just too free to really attack entry and get on the throttle the way I needed to in order to get to the front.”

Reddick’s season high seventh-place finish leaves him outside the Chase bubble, in need of a victory to secure a spot. While weekend rains can often go against a truck, in this case, Reddick felt it was the game changer for his No. 29 team.

“We had a really good Cooper Standard Ford F-150 and our pit stops were awesome,” Reddick said. “We were a heck of a lot better than when we walked out of the track Thursday after practice. I think that when the rain washed the rubber off track, it definitely helped our setup.”

The Camping World Trucks return to action at Charlotte Motor Speedway this Friday night, May 20 at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

 

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