Brad Keselowsi’s expectations heading into Richmond were high.
He told media members during the week that he expected to lead a lot of laps and, perhaps, win.
On Saturday, in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, he was vindicated.
The race went, for the most part, as Keselowski called it. He led 192 laps, his most in any race since March of last year.
From the time he took his first lead, 121 laps in, to the end, he was tough to top. And after reclaiming first for the final time, with 47 laps to go, he didn’t let go to score his fourth Cup Series victory of the season and prove himself correct.
“I knew we were going to have a great car,” said Keselowski, who last won at Richmond in 2014. “I knew I’d put a lot of work into what I needed to do as a driver to be really good here and to find a really strong rhythm. And if I could pair those things with ... a race with great execution, I felt like we could win it.
“And we put all those three together and here we are.”
Keselowski and Team Penske teammate Joey Logano had two of the strongest rides in the field Saturday, and went 1-2 for significant chunks of the night. Logano went on to finish third.
Martin Truex Jr., who swept last year’s spring and fall races last year, finished second. Austin Dillon was fourth, and Chase Elliott fifth.
Part of Keselowski’s confidence coming in had to be attributed to his track record. The 36-year-old led the Cup Series led the circuit in average finish at short tracks this season, with a win at Bristol and third-place finish at Martinsville already in his back pocket.
Team Penske has also done well with the low-downforce aerodynamic package in place this year at ovals of about one mile in length or less, which includes ¾-mile Richmond.
“I think all of our guys are really good short-track racers,”Jeremy Bullins, Keselowski’s crew chief, said of Penske drivers. “They have a short-track pedigree. They’re really good at that discipline.
“And I think, like a lot of teams, most of us came from short-track backgrounds. So it’s something that we take a lot of pride in, running well at the shorter tracks.”
Early Saturday, it looked as if Denny Hamlin, who grew up in Chesterfield County, was going to be the one to beat. He led 45 laps and won the first stage.
But, during pit stops after that opening segment, Hamlin was penalized for speeding on pit road. He was banished to the rear. Dillon, who finished the first stage second, picked up the same penalty.
Hamlin never really recovered and finished 12th, a lap down. Dillon did bounce back, and led a career-high 55 laps.
Keselowski, though, passed Dillon on lap No. 218 and went on to win Stage 2. He later passed him again, on lap No. 353, to take the lead for good.
After securing the win Saturday, Keselowski did just an abbreviated burnout in Turn 1, opting to save his particular car. Saturday’s ride was the same one he won in at Loudon in August, and Keselowski said he wants it for the season finale at Phoenix in November, too.
Any burnout would’ve come in front of empty seats. Keselowski’s win capped a spurt of four races in three days at RR — Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Thursday, Xfinity Series Friday night and Saturday afternoon and Cup Series — all without fans.
“Definitely different without the fans, obviously. We certainly missed our fans and missed the energy that they bring to the race track,” RR president Dennis Bickmeier said. “But just thankful that we were able to get race cars, and the Truck Series, back on the race track. ... It was just great to see action out there over the last three days.”
Keselowski’s four wins this year place him third on the season list, behind Kevin Harvick (eight) and Hamlin (six). He’s second in the playoff standings, behind Harvick, with one race to go in the round of 16, at Bristol.
Saturday’s result was also the 34th Cup Series win in Keselowski’s career, which moved him into 24th on the all-time list. He’s now won at least four races in a season four times.
Keselowski called his shot and cashed in, but is still hungry for more as he chases a second career Cup Series championship.
“It is nice to have another four-win season,” Keselowski said. “But I hope we don’t stop there.”
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