While Denny Hamlin celebrated a win on Thursday night’s Super Start Batteries 400 at Kansas Speedway, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. emerged with second- and third-place results following a strong run from start to finish in the 19th NASCAR Cup Series race of this season.
For Keselowski, who featured the Wabash National colors on his No. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang for the first time this season and started the Kansas race in seventh based on a random draw, it was a race where the 2012 Cup champion gained a multitude of stage points, including a win in the second stage, and led a total of 30 laps while running towards the front and contending for the win. Though Keselowski had the pace to move into second place and close towards Hamlin’s rear bumper in the final laps on four fresh tires compared to Hamlin’s two, he could not navigate his way to the front as he finished within a half a second to Hamlin in the runner-up spot a year after winning the first Kansas Cup race. The strong result marked Keselowski’s seventh top-five result of this season as he also achieved his 200th top-10 Cup career finish. While Keselowski is already guaranteed a spot in the Playoffs by virtue of his two season wins in May, he moved into the runner-up spot in the standings and trails points leader Kevin Harvick by 97 points. The runner-up spot comes as Keselowski continues to await his racing plans for 2021.
“[Hamlin and I] were pretty equal,” Keselowski said on NBCSN. “He had two tires, I had four tires. He was just really strong on the restarts. He and the [Joe] Gibbs [Racing] cars could pull everybody by about a car length on the restarts and they did a great job there taking advantage of it. We weren’t able to do anything with that. [I] Thought [that we were] even on the race track, but just a little bit behind on restarts. Tonight was a really good night for us here at Kansas with our Wabash Ford Mustang. This is as good as we’ve been on the mile and a halfs [tracks]. We’ve been really consistent. Last week was not our best at Texas, but this was good. Nice midweek race, leading stages, leading laps, winning stages. Just one spot short of the win.”
For Truex, who swept both Kansas races in 2017 and started fifth based on a random draw, his first appearance at the front came on Lap 28 following the competition caution. From there, Truex and his No. 19 Auto-Owners Insurance/Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry went on to record a top-five finish in the first stage and a top-10 finish in the second stage to collect a bevy of stage points towards the Playoffs. Like Keselowski, Truex ran towards the front throughout the race as he led 44 laps overall. After surviving a series of late carnages, Truex was able to work his way up to third with less than 10 laps remaining. While the 2017 Cup champion had a fast car in the late stages, what he did not have was time to navigate his way around Hamlin and Keselowski for the win as he settled in third, less than a second behind, when the checkered flag flew. The solid top-five result was Truex’s fourth of the season as he is seventh in the regular-season standings, 161 points behind Harvick. He is also guaranteed a spot in the 2020 Cup Playoffs by virtue of his win at Martinsville Speedway in June.
“[I] Just ran out of time,” Truex said on NBCSN. “The Auto-Owners Camry was really strong all night. It was a battle all night just to get the track position back. These things are so difficult in traffic. You lose a few more spots than you hope on a restart and you just got to dig. Proud of the effort. Our cars are fast, the guys are doing a good job and that’s what we need to be doing. We’ll keep digging and we got some wins coming. The cautions didn’t fall the way we needed it to tonight. We needed everybody to be taking four [tires] and we could’ve controlled the race from there, I think.”
Keselowski and Truex, along with their fellow NASCAR Cup Series competitors, will return for the next scheduled race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on August 2, which will air at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN.