Brad Keselowski led the final nine laps in the Sprint Cup STP 400 Sunday at Kansas Speedway, but said he wasn't really aware that he was the race leader until there were just two laps remaining. With Dale Earnhardt Jr. charging hard in the No. 88 Chevrolet and Keselowski in a fuel conservation mode over the closing laps, it looked like the dash to the checkered flag could be close, but Keselowski was able to maintain - and actually widen - his margin of victory over the also-fuel-starved 88 car for his second career Sprint Cup win.
With a total of 152 laps led in Sunday's race at Kansas, it appeared that Kurt Busch was on his way to becoming the first pole-sitter to claim a Cup victory this season. The older Busch brother, however, was forced to pit to take on a splash of fuel to finish the race, creating the 17th lead change of the day but the first for his Penske Racing teammate Keselowski.
Keselowski was able to go 57 green-flag laps on his final fuel stop, while the race leaders, principally Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon, who had pitted earlier for fuel, had no choice but to make one more quick stop, which ended up costing them the race. Keselowski was literally coasting through the corners in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge to conserve fuel the final five laps or so.
Denny Hamlin, who also was running short of fuel again this weekend at the end, had enough left in the tank to claim third place, Gordon came in fourth and local favorite Carl Edwards, from nearby Columbia, Mo., was fifth.
Kansan Clint Bowyer, another local favorite from Emporia, was never really a factor in the race. The winner of the Camping World truck race at the Speedway on Saturday, started in the 27th position on Sunday, but was only able to move up 10 spots, finishing 17th in his No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
"I really didn't know I was leading until two laps to go when I saw my number at the top of the scoreboard," an ecstatic Keselowski told reporters in victory lane.
"We've been so close lately. We just never could catch that right break. We caught a break today," he said.
Edwards, seeking his first Sprint Cup win at Kansas Speedway, led for 59 laps and was among the leaders throughout the race., but wasn't able to get it done in the end. On a hot and humid day that caused its own share of problems for the drivers, Edwards was one driver who claims to thrive under those difficult conditions.
"If it's hot and slick like this every time, that's for me," he said. "I like it." A third of the way through the race, Earnhardt radioed his pit crew to inform them that the steamy heat was beginning to affect him.
Earnhardt's Sprint Cup Series winless streak is now at 107 races. Asked afterward what it was going to take to snap this string, Junior said: "We've just got to qualify better. We've got fast cars (at Hendrick Motorsports). We'll be back."
Next weekend the Sprint Cup Series shifts to higher ground at the Pocono Raceway in the eastern Pennsylvania mountains for the Pocono 500.