JOLIET, Ill. (September 19, 2011) – Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS), finished fifth in the Geico 400 – the first race in the 2011 Chase for the Championship – at Chicagoland Speedway on Monday afternoon. With the finish, Keselowski moves up to the sixth position in the Chase for the Championship standings and sits just 14 points out of the lead.
In similar fashion to the events at Atlanta Motor Speedway two weeks again, rain showers plagued the event, forcing it to a Monday morning start. Keselowski began Monday’s 267-lap event from the sixth position after posting a lap of 29.531 seconds, or 182.859 miles per hour, around the 1.5-mile oval during Saturday’s qualifying session. Starting the race on the outside row, Keselowski lost two spots as the green flag flew as the outer lane did not move well to start the race. As he settled into the eighth position, Keselowski radioed that the car was tight in the center of the corner and lacked rear grip on corner exit. Despite the handling condition, the Miller Lite Dodge exhibited good long-run speed and began turning some of the fastest laps of the race prior to the NASCAR-mandated competition caution at lap 30. Crew chief Paul Wolfe called for track bar and air pressure adjustments and Keselowski restarted the race from the 12th position at lap 36.
Despite the adjustments, Keselowski saw no improvement in the handling of the Miller Lite machine as he fell back to the 15th position. A caution flag at lap 70 provided Wolfe with another opportunity to turn on his Dodge, electing to again make an adjustment to the track bar. As Keselowski restarted the race in the 15th position at lap 76, he radioed that he was still loose on exit, but the center of the corners were much improved. In fact, he noted that there was not a car in the field that could keep up with him in the center of the corners. By lap 111, Keselowski was turning laps faster than the race leader.
The first green-flag pit stop of the day for the Miller Lite team occurred on lap 114. Wolfe aggressively adjusted on the car through track bar and wedge changes, which immediately had a positive effect on the stopwatch. Keselowski was consistently one of the fastest cars on the track as he began to make a charge back inside the top 10.
Wolfe made one of the more-daring calls of the race when he elected to keep Keselowski on the racetrack during a lap 164 caution, giving his driver the race lead with tires that had only 13 laps on them. Of the cars that pitted who lined up behind Keselowski, a number of them took only two tires on the stop. Keselowski and Wolfe were confident that this move would give them the track position they were looking for. After surrendering the lead to the No. 48 of Jimmie Johnson, Keselowski settled into the top-five cars by consistently turning lap times faster than the field.
The track position that the duo worked to find was taken away following a lap 198 green-flag stop. As Keselowski returned to the track following his service, another competitor made contact with the outside wall, bringing out an unwelcomed caution flag, pinning Keselowski one lap down as he lost a lap on pit road. Keselowski was able to receive the “wave around” to get back on the lead lap when the lead lap cars pitted under this yellow flag, but he was forced to start at the rear of the field, in the 20th position, at lap 209.
With the final caution flag of the day waving at lap 213, Wolfe called Keselowski down pit road for four tires and fuel as this placed them in a fuel window to make it to the end of the race. Keselowski, who won earlier at Kansas Speedway on fuel mileage, entered fuel-saving mode on lap 241. As several cars in front of him ran out of fuel, he was able to cross the finish line in the fifth position, garnering a solid start to the 2011 Chase for the Championship.
Penske Racing teammate, Kurt Busch, finished sixth in Monday’s Geico 400.
Following Monday’s result, Keselowski and the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge team moved into a tie for sixth in the Cup Series driver and owner point standings with the No. 39 of Ryan Newman.
“Whew, an amazing day to get this Miller Lite Dodge Charger a top-five finish,” said Keselowski. “I’m proud of Paul (Wolfe) and everyone on this team. It wasn’t easy. We started off the race really loose anticipating that the track would be a lot tighter than it was. I just had to ride it out and wait for the competition caution to make some adjustments. I knew that I had a fast race car. It really was a matter of trying to be patient and keep working on this Blue Deuce. Paul did an amazing job. That’s what makes good race team. It was a good first step for us in the Chase.”
The second race for Keselowski and the No. 2 Miller Lite team in the 2011 Chase for the Championship will be the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday, September 25. Live coverage will begin at 1 pm ET on ESPN. The race will also be heard on the Performance Racing Network and Sirius XM Satellite Radio Channel 90.