Brad Keselowski flexed his muscles to get past Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with only seven laps remaining and eventually held on to win the Kroger 200 Nationwide Series race Saturday night at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Keselowski made the difficult pass with just three laps left in “regulation”. A wreck, involving several drivers in the front of the field brought out the final caution, setting up a green-white-checkered finish.
Keselowski motored away from Stenhouse Jr. easily in the two-lap dash to finish first by .987 of a second. James Buescher barely got past Stenhouse for second. Aric Almirola was fourth, and Carl Edwards, who probably would have been battling for the win if it were not for him speeding on pit road, finished fifth.
“We rubbed a little bit,” said Keselowski of the pass that won the race. “I didn’t take him out by any means. I just raced him hard like I’m sure he would for the win. Ricky deserved to win this race with the car he had, but things fell our way.”
Stenhouse, who led an impressive 189 laps, was in a league by himself for most of the night.
“It’s frustrating,” Stenhouse said. “I’ve been working on my restarts all year. Brad Keselowski is a really good driver, a little bit better on restarts than I am. Our car was pretty fast all night, but you can’t say it’s dominant when you don’t win the race. I was a little too tight on the restart.”
Stenhouse did not complain about Keselowski’s aggressive driving despite the fact the pressure pushed Stenhouse into the outside wall.
Just after Keselowski made the pass, Stenhouse and Elliott Sadler began to make some serious contact while battling for second, this caused Sadler’s car to spin and was later hit by teammate Austin Dillon. That initiated the final caution.
Stenhouse, who had one of the season’s most dominant performances, led 173 of the first 177 laps and appeared to be on his way to embarrassing the rest of the field. But that run was interrupted when the race was put under a red flag with 24 laps to go because of a major crash involving Tim Andrews and teammates Michael Annett and Steve Wallace.
Andrews and Annett were involved on the front end of the incident, and their cars had stopped on the wall in turn three when Wallace and Buescher touched as they approached the accident. Wallace slammed hard into Annett, sending Wallace’s car into the air for a brief second.
Neither Annett nor Andrews was pleased about the other’s actions during the accident. Annett said Andrews had run too slow all night, and Andrews said Annett showed impatience trying to pass.
Andrews walked to Annett’s car window and spoke to him after the accident, a move that irritated Annett. “I just don’t appreciate anyone coming up to my window like that,” Annett said.
Andrews defended that decision. “I didn’t think it (Annett’s pass) was very smart, and I wanted to let him know about it right away,” he said.
With just 18 laps to go, another caution followed as a blown engine took Trevor Bayne out of contention. Bayne was running second at that time.