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Keselowski hungry for another NASCAR championship PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, June 29, 2014 8:00 PM

Associated Press

 

SPARTA, Ky. — Brad Keselowski will have to fine-tune his victory celebrations after a shattered champagne bottle left him with a bloodied and bandaged right hand.

The upside is he might get more chances to polish his post-race revelry as he pursues his second Sprint Cup Series championship in three years.

Already locked into the Chase with a Las Vegas victory and a solid string of top-5s, Keselowski delivered his most dominant run at Kentucky Speedway. He started from the pole and led 199 of the 267 laps en route to his second win this season.

The Penske Racing driver heads to Daytona International Speedway fourth in points and showing the form that carried him to the 2012 championship. Missing last year's Chase also seems to have made Keselowski wiser — Saturday night notwithstanding.

"I want to win another championship," Keselowski said after a roundabout journey between Victory Lane and the infield care center to receive four stitches after striking the bottle on the podium. "I don't want to be a guy that contends for a championship every three or four years. I want to do it each and every year and I know that opportunity is here, it's present and I want to make the most of it."

The exuberant 30-year-old joked that he was going through something of a midlife crisis, perhaps his way of stressing that he has to maximize his window of opportunity to win titles. That urgency worked for him two years ago, when he won five times with 23 top-10s and 13 top-5s to win the title.

Keselowski has two fewer wins than at the same point in 2012 but is showing the same consistency. His second Kentucky victory marked his ninth top-10 along with a series-best second triumph at 1 1/2 miles, the distance of many Chase tracks.

Those intermediate-length tracks don't return to the schedule until August at Atlanta but Keselowski noted the importance of finding the formula now.

"When you can run well at this point in time, it bodes well for the final half of the season," he added. "Certainly, we're not content. ... The reality is that Hendrick cars had won three or four of the last five and they're going to continue to be the cars to beat. So we have to keep pushing as well."

Keselowski returns to Daytona looking to build on February's third-place run at the 500 and extend a recent run of top-10s on the 2.5-mile track. He enters with momentum following a commanding Kentucky performance in which he and teammate Joey Logano began on the front row and combined to lead the first 217 laps. The Michigan native later rallied from sixth on a restart to pass Kyle Busch on Lap 248 and pull away.

"Performances like (Saturday), sometimes they're few and far between," crew chief Paul Wolfe said. "We'll continue to work hard to put together cars like this every weekend, and this is the type of performance we're going to need to be able to compete for another championship."

Pagenaud wins 2nd race of Houston doubleheader

HOUSTON — Not everything was bigger in Texas on a hot and humid weekend in which a pair of small IndyCar teams claimed the commemorative cowboy boots from the Grand Prix of Houston.

Sam Schmidt's drivers went 1-2 on Sunday for the first time in team history as Simon Pagenaud grabbed the win and led rookie teammate Mikhail Aleshin to the checkered flag. Pagenaud used the win, his second of the season, to climb back into the championship race.

He came to Houston trailing Will Power by 91 points and cut it to 59 after the two races.

Aleshin, the first Russian to compete in IndyCar, was a career-best second for his first podium and told reporters a tire problem nearly prevented him from making it to the finish.

Third went to rookie Jack Hawksworth, his first career podium. It capped a breakthrough weekend for the British driver, who finished a career-best sixth Saturday.

A day earlier, Dale Coyne Racing scored its first win of the year with rookie Carlos Huertas. The rookie led a Colombian sweep of the rain-soaked podium alongside countrymen Juan Pablo Montoya and rookie Carlos Munoz.

It was a race Pagenaud thought he should have won.

He spent the previous week training in California for the heat and humidity and won the pole for the first race of the doubleheader. His race was ruined, though, first by a spin and then when he was collected in Scott Dixon's crash. He finished 16th in the first race.

Power, the points leader, rallied from another poor qualifying effort to put himself in position for a third-place finish. But he failed to make it to the finish line when a part broke on his car two laps from the finish. Pagenaud, Aleshin and Power had peeled away from the pack, leaving Hawksworth behind for a spirited battle to hold on for fourth-place.

Then Power went off course and fell to 11th. Still, he entered the weekend with a 39 point lead in the standings and that was unchanged.

Hoping to close ground on Power this weekend was Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, who was ninth Saturday but started from the pole on Sunday looking for a win. Instead, he was chasing Pagenaud from second for the lead early in the race when he drove into Sebastien Bourdais.

Castroneves had been setting up his pass of Pagenaud and apparently didn't see Bourdais when he suddenly tried to cut into the same lane as Bourdais. Castroneves wound up 21st.

The contact broke Bourdais' front wing while he was running third, causing him to fall through the field, but he rallied to finish fifth, behind Charlie Kimball, despite the damage. It marked consecutive top-five finishes for the first time this season for Bourdais.

Huertas, winner Saturday, and Munoz, who finished third on Saturday, both failed to finish on Sunday and were the first two cars out.

It was a topsy-turvy weekend like that in which Munoz was the only driver from the big three teams — Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske — to earn a podium.

Also, IndyCar fined Marco Andretti $2,500 Sunday for ignoring an order from race control, saying he held up Takuma Sato and allowed his teammate catch the leader.

Andretti was ahead of Sato and fighting to stay on the lead lap early in Houston on Saturday. IndyCar officials showed him the blue flag — the signal to move over and let Sato pass. Andretti did not heed the flag because he wanted to stay on the lead lap, which drew a black flag, drive-thru penalty.

As punishment for ignoring the initial blue flag, IndyCar fined him and placed him on probation for three races, including Sunday's second event of the Grand Prix of Houston. Andretti Autosport was also fined $2,500.

"The blue flag was because (Andretti) was in front of the leader, who had a 4-second lead on his teammate. And we felt he was obstructing the leader by not letting the leader go," explained Derrick Walker, IndyCar president of competition.

Sato was leading Saturday's race and Andretti driver James Hinchcliffe was second. Marco Andretti found himself in the mix because an earlier spin had sent him to pit road and when he rejoined the action, he was ahead of the pack. Being passed by Sato would have put him a lap down.

Walker alleged Hinchcliffe was able to close the gap on Sato from four seconds to about half a second while Andretti was ahead of Sato. And because of rain earlier in the race, track conditions provided "limited places for the leader to get by Andretti," Walker added.

But, Walker noted, once IndyCar had given Andretti the blue flag, Andretti suddenly "went quicker and quicker.

"The leader couldn't go quicker; that's fact that that's what happened. Once he (Andretti) got his car going and up to speed, he'd already been given the blue flag instructions. If he'd moved out of the way right away, it would have been no foul.

"But he continued to fight it, by their admission, that they would keep going because they were in the right. When you get a command from race control, you have to obey it."

Andretti has denied he was intentionally holding up Sato, explaining he was simply fighting to remain competitive in the race. He ultimately finished eighth.

"My question was, what would have happened if James was leading?" he asked. "It's the 20th lap of the race and the facts are I finished ahead of Sato. Because you have to fight. It's early in the race. If it's late in the race, I would have moved over, they wouldn't have had to tell me to move over."

He insisted he was one of the top three fastest cars on the track at the time he was told to move out of Sato's way.

His father, team owner Michael Andretti, was incensed at the accusation Marco was deliberately holding up Sato to aid Hinchcliffe.

"That's an absolute lie," he said. "He was faster than Sato and if Hinch was closing in on Sato, maybe, just maybe it's because Hinch was faster."

A.J. Foyt, owner of Sato's car, alleged the Andretti drivers were following team orders.

"The deal with Marco, I would have to say blocking for his own damn car is a bunch of crap," Foyt said.

Walker, meanwhile, admitted IndyCar has to consider going forward whether Andretti should have been given the blue flag considering his position in the race.

Drivers apparently questioned it, as well, in Sunday's pre-race meeting, and at least one was in public support of Andretti.

Westbrook, Valiante win at Watkins Glen

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Richard Westbrook pulled away on a 1-lap dash to the checkered flag Sunday to win the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship's Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen.

Westbrook teamed with Michael Valiante in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Racing Corvette DP. Alex Brundle was second, 0.877 seconds back in the No. 42 OAK Racing Morgan/Nissan he shared with Gustavo Yacaman and Ho-Pin Tung.

Westbrook passed Brundle after a restart with 12 minutes remaining, just before a full-course caution came out for an incident between Scott Pruett and the Prototype Challenge car of Renger van der Zande.

Westbrook and Valiante won for the first time since a GRAND-AM race at Laguna Seca in September 2012.

Antonio Garcia and Jan Magnussen raced to their third consecutive GT Le Mans class victory in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R, while Dane Cameron and Markus Palttala dominated the GT Daytona class in the No. 94 Turner Motorsport BMW.

For the fourth time this season, Colin Braun spearheaded a Prototype Challenge class victory in the No. 54 CORE autosport ORECA FLM09 with Jon Bennett and James Gue. Braun, Bennett and Gue also won endurance races at Daytona and Sebring, while Braun and Bennett won a sprint race at Kansas Speedway this month.

Matt Hagan won the Route 66 NHRA Nationals

JOLIET, Ill. — Matt Hagan won the Route 66 NHRA Nationals on Sunday to end an 11-event victory drought, beating Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. in the Funny Car final.

Hagan, the 2011 Funny Car season champion, had a pass of 4.098 seconds at 310.48 mph in his Dodge Charger for his 11th career victory and first since the since the season-ending race in Pomona last year.

Hagan is a 3-time winner in Joliet.

Antron Brown won in Top Fuel, Vincent Nobile topped the Pro Stock field and Hector Arana Jr. won in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Brown raced to his fourth victory of the season, beating Brittany Force with a 3.814 at 317.34. He has four wins at Route 66 Raceway, two in Top Fuel and two in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Nobile drove his Chevy Camaro to a 6.655 at 208.01 to edge KB Racing teammate Jason Line. Arana beat father and teammate Hector Arana with a 6.925 at 193.93 on a Buell.

 

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