Instead, the controversial driver raced Penske teammate Justin Allgaier clean down the stretch, settling for a runner-up finish after Allgaier scored his first career Nationwide Series victory on Saturday afternoon at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“It’s even better when you can do it here at Bristol,” Allgaier said. “This is one of my favorite racetracks of all time and to be able to come out of here with a victory means a lot.”
Keselowski dominated the second half of the race prior to the final caution, on lap 267. After smoking the field on the previous three restarts from his position on the outside, he chose the outside lane once again on the final restart, leaving Allgaier in second place on the low side.
When the green flag fell, Allgaier pulled by Keselowski’s No. 22 Dodge on the low side and made it stick coming out of turn two to take the lead for good.
As Allgaier negotiated slower traffic in the final laps, Keselowski was able to tuck up under the rear bumper of Allgaier’s No. 12 Dodge. Keselowski got the No. 22’s nose underneath Allgaier’s car a couple times but wasn’t able to complete the pass.
“I lifted and let him in, lost the lead there,” Keselowski said of the final restart. “I thought I had a chance at getting it back but just didn’t catch the right breaks as far as lapped traffic.
“This Nationwide Series program is in its infancy stage. It’s important as it continues to grow that we don’t self-destruct.”
The victory gave Dodge its first Nationwide victory since Kasey Kahne won in Bristol in August 2007 and delivered Penske Racing a 1-2 finish.
Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five Saturday.
Allgaier had to come from the 30th starting position to claim his first career victory in his 43rd series start. His lackluster lap during qualifying had a lot to do with cold conditions in Bristol on Saturday morning.
“A gross miscalculation of grip, I think, is what we called it this morning,” Allgaier said. “Especially at a place like Bristol, a tenth or two-tenths or three-tenths of a second means the world. It’s 10 or 12 spots.”
Allgaier’s car hooked up under the afternoon sun, however, allowing him to motor his way to the front before he got caught up in any trouble. His rapid ascent through the field was a pleasant surprise for crew chief Chad Walter.
“He told me, that’s 10 cars every 100 laps,” Allgaier said. “I think we did that by lap 30. Passed 10 cars and just kept getting better and better.”
Harvick’s fifth-place finish tied him with Tommy Houston for the most career top fives in Nationwide competition. But Harvick had to use his bumper to put his name in the record book — at the expense of Joey Logano.
Harvick caught Logano heading into turn two on the final lap and spun him to grab the fifth spot. Logano finished 14th and made a mad dash to his hauler following the race without stopping to speak to the media.
Busch and Edwards settled for top-five finishes after having the best two cars on the track early. Busch led twice for a total of 59 laps, and Edwards was dominant in a 24-lap stint out front.
Both drivers were shuffled back in the pack, however, when different pit strategies were put in play during a flurry of cautions in the middle stages of the race.
“We had a good race car, not one of the best obviously,” Busch said. “We plugged along all day. We made some good changes, but the 12 and 22 were just too strong up front. We were better than the rest but didn’t have enough for the Penske cars today. This time we missed out on just a little something.”
Penske’s big day very nearly went up in smoke on lap 187 when Shelby Howard and Tony Raines got together in turn two while battling to stay on the lead lap. Brendan Gaughan and Kahne were collected in the wreck while running in the top five, but Allgaier and Keselowski managed to sneak through.
“I couldn’t ask for anything better than 1-2,” Penske said. “I said to Brad, take care of yourselves. That’s all I can say. I didn’t need to have the two of them in trouble, and once they got past the 18, it was about who had the best car.”
Edwards maintained a 26-point lead over Keselowski in the Nationwide standings. With his fourth straight top-10 finish, Allgaier moved into third place, 31 points behind Edwards.