Brad Keselowski made a busy weekend well worth the trouble.
The defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion was the lone driver making frequent trips between Central Iowa and Pocono Raceway, where he’ll compete in Sunday’s premier series event.
Keselowski will be toting a gas pump trophy back with him after winning the Fifth Annual NASCAR Nationwide Series U.S. Cellular 250 Saturday night at Iowa Speedway. He has won the last three Nationwide starts he has made for Penske Racing, despite not having a Sprint Cup victory this season.
“Flying back and forth is definitely work, but the work is worth the reward,” Keselowski said. “That’s having a fast race car and a great team to be able to come here to come here to Iowa Speedway and win this.”
Keselowski said that might grab more attention than it should, and that is the triumphant effort of everyone working with the No. 22 car Saturday.
“What should get publicity is having a fast car,” Keselowski said, “and executing through some adversity,”
The key moment of the race came after the third caution of the race, starting seventh with less than 50 laps remaining. As Trevor Bayne and Brian Vickers were battling side-by-side for the lead, Keselowski made his move.
He shot through the leaders, moving quickly to the front and grabbing the lead on lap 216. The choice to take four new tires proved to be a winning strategy, despite slipping a spot in order.
“It was hard-fought to make it happen,” Keselowski said. “Certainly, that yellow was a turning point in the race for us.”
Crew chief Jeremy Bullins may have been at the heart of the decision, but he credited Keselowski for taking advantage of the situation.
“He took care of the rest of it,” Crew chief Jeremy Bullins said. “He did a great job all night.”
Not only did Keselowski overcome the other 39 drivers in the field, but he persevered through a number of issues during the race. He received an early penalty, after running in the top five with a shot to jump a spot or two during a pit stop under caution. Keselowski, however, was assessed an outside tire violation, falling to the rear of the field for the restart. He also suffered an overheating problem that hindered him midway through the race. He remained patient before taking the lead and pulled away from the field.
While all the mishaps prevented him from contending early, he had to maintain focus. It was a struggle at times.
“As a driver, those are probably some of the most difficult moments, knowing you have a fast racecar and circumstances are playing against you,” Keselowski said. “There are two ways you can react to that. You can let the moment define you or you can define the moment.”
It was Keselowski’s first win at Iowa Speedway since 2009. He noted the similarities to that victory to his most recent one. His team fought troubles that day, using different strategies and beat Kyle Busch’s team, which he called one of the best at the time.
“It was very much a defining moment,” Keselowski said. “Especially with it being the inaugural race here. It was a win that, at that time, was the biggest of my career.”
Penske Racing managed to sweep the top two spots with Sam Hornish Jr. placing second. Vickers was third, which is his first top-three finish at Iowa Speedway.
Hornish started 14th and came away with his fourth runner-up finish of the season. This one was a little different than his second-place finish to Penske teammate Joey Logano two races ago in Chicago. Hornish said being the top Nationwide finisher was a boost for points, making second easier to accept.
“I felt we had maybe a third or fourth-place car and we finished second,” Hornish said. “I’m pretty proud of the way the guys did a great job on pit road for us (Saturday). I’m actually pretty happy with it.”
For the second straight race at Iowa Speedway, Austin Dillon led the majority of the race but failed to seal the victory. He led 116 laps, but fell back to fifth for the final restart. It resembled his performance in June’s DuPont Pioneer 250 where he led 207 of 250 and was runner-up to Bayne.
Dillon decided to take four tires when many of the leaders — including Vickers, Regan Smith, Elliott Sadler and Bayne — took two tires to move ahead of him. Dillon put the No. 3 Chevrolet in the points lead for the first time since Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2003, and his fourth-place finish kept him in front of the season points standing. Dillon owns a 14-point lead over Smith.
Drew Herring claimed his first NASCAR Nationwide Series pole in 11 career races Saturday afternoon, joined in the front row with Regan Smith. He posted the top speed, coming in at 135.367 miles per hour.
It was just his second top-10 start of the season for the 26-year-old Joe Gibbs Racing driver. He started ninth here for Nationwide’s DuPont Pioneer 250 in June. He finished 11th in that race.
Herring paced the field for the first 26 laps, surrendering the lead to Smith and dropping back. He spun out on lap 55, bringing out the race’s first caution and ending the longest green-flag stretch to start a race this season.
Rookie Kyle Larson placed fifth, which was the best showing by a rookie. He had to leave shortly after the race to compete at Knoxville Raceway later Saturday night.
He experienced a rough start, but some in-race adjustments made a big difference, allowing to move through the field.
“I’ll take it after the way our day started,” Larson said. “I’ll go to Knoxville tonight and try to win the sprint (car) race.”
Ryan Gifford made his series debut memorable. He posted a ninth-place finish in his first time behind the wheel of a Nationwide car.
“I just tried to run the wheels off it and put in position,” Gifford said. “We finished the laps and ran top-10.”