WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Brad Keselowski has always had a fondness for Watkins Glen International, and that fondness just grew a bit more.
The reigning Sprint Cup champion, who had finished second three times in the past two years at The Glen, led 49 laps in the Nationwide Zippo 200 and finally notched that elusive first career road course victory Saturday.
“I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. I can remember coming here with my dad (in the 1990s), just always having a love affair with this track,” said Keselowski, runner-up to Marcos Ambrose in the past two Cup races at the track. “There’s something about this track. I have a very deep appreciation for it. It’s been a great race track for me.”
Keselowski passed Joey Logano for the lead with 16 laps to go, then held off Sam Hornish Jr. in a dominant performance for Penske Racing.
Keselowski, who finished second to Carl Edwards despite leading more than half of this race a year ago, won for the fourth straight time over five months in NASCAR’s second-tier series.
Brian Vickers was third, followed by Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler. Logano finished 21st after running out of gas on the final lap, his team’s fuel strategy backfiring.
Hornish won the pole and set sail with Keselowski at the outset after Kyle Busch crashed on the first turn of the 82-lap race.
“Kyle getting torn up, it was pretty apparent that all three of our cars had a shot to win the race if we just didn’t do something dumb,” Keselowski said. “So I tried to not do something dumb the whole race.”
Busch wasn’t so fortunate. He started second but lost control of his No. 54 Toyota, sliding sideways after apparently tapping the rear bumper of Hornish as they drove through the first turn, a downhill 90-degree right-hander. Busch’s spotter had just cleared him to make a move under Hornish.
Busch briefly touched the Armco barrier that lines the track and was OK, but Mike Wallace, in midpack and unaware Busch was there, pulled right to make a pass and slammed the left front of Busch’s car.
“I’m sorry guys,” Busch said over his radio as he drove to the garage for repairs. Busch, who was seeking his ninth victory of the season and 60th in the series, finished five laps down in 24th.
Wallace’s No. 01 Chevrolet was crushed, too, as was his psyche.
“I went to the right, Wallace said. “You wouldn’t expect him to be spun out that early in the race. We were just trying to get through the first lap. It’s disappointing.”
After that, it was a show between Hornish and Keselowski as the three Penske Fords combined to lead all but nine laps.
Hornish managed to close on Keselowski’s back bumper with six laps remaining, but that was as close as he got.
MARCOS AMBROSE will chase his third straight Sprint Cup victory at Watkins Glen International on Sunday, and he’s feeling a little bit less pressure after nabbing the pole.
With an average finish of second in five starts at The Glen, Ambrose is the favorite. He knows a win would vault him into the top 20 and at least move him into contention at a wild-card berth for the 12-driver Chase for the Cup championship.
BEECH RIDGE: Charlie Colby of Newcastle climbed into the top five after a caution at the midway point, then took the lead on another caution seven laps later, pulling ahead of runner-up Bill Rodgers of Old Orchard Beach in the Pro Series feature.
Other winners were Don Morse of Windham in the Sport Series, David Vaughn of Naples in the Wildcat and Shawn Brackett of Scarborough in the Road Runners.