BRISTOL, TN – Race report by Race Chaser Online Mid-Atlantic Correspondent Marshall Gabell – Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images for NASCAR photo – Sometimes, it’s the smaller prize that people cherish the most.
The adage was true Thursday morning at Bristol Motor Speedway when 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski went to Victory Lane, claiming his first-career and long-elusive NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win in 62 series starts.
Keselowski led 119 laps of 200 in the UNOH 200 en route to his 45th overall NASCAR national series victory after rainstorms forced the scheduled Wednesday night race to be postponed until the morning.
The win was more memorable when Keselowski explained in the winners circle how much the win meant to him after growing up around the Truck Series watching his father Bob Keselowski compete.
“It means a lot as a driver, and I don’t want to understate that,” a smiling Keselowski said. “My family has been a part of this series since its inception. I feel like I have too, whether it was a kid watching, and now as a team owner and a driver.”
Competing now full-time in the Sprint Cup Series, Keselowski credited the Truck Series for igniting his quest into higher divisions, making this initial triumph even more special.
“I got my start in the series,” Keselowski commented. “I ran my family bankrupt in this series trying to make it. Caught some other breaks to make it to the Cup Series, and had all the success in the Cup and Nationwide level, but never here. In part it’s because I did it the hard way trying to do it myself … We’re here and I’m proud of each and every one of the crew that got me there.”
With his win, Keselowski and father Bob became the first father and son duo to win NCWTS races. The senior Keselowski won at Richmond International Raceway in 1997.
Furthermore, the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion became the 25th driver to win a race in all three of NASCAR’s national series. His first Sprint Cup win came at Talladega Superspeedway on April 26, 2009. His first Nationwide Series victory occurred at Nashville Superspeedway on June 7, 2008.
Mudsummer Classic winner Darrell Wallace Jr. attempted a last chance surge at Keselowski’s No. 19 Ford but ended one spot short from celebrating and accepted his third second-place finish of the season.
Once Wallace climbed from the truck it was easy to see the disappointment in his face with the performance and when speaking with reporters he defended his decision to resist spinning out Keselowski to win his fourth career race.
“I hate finishing second,” Wallace commented. “I don’t care if its’ Brad (Keselowski), Kyle (Busch) or anybody else. I’m trying to make a name for myself. I might have got some cheers, but I think I would have gotten more boos if went out and wrecked him. I race everybody with respect; at least I try to. I’m sure I get talked about behind my back after the races, but everybody does.
Four-time Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday earned his fifth top five and second-straight third place finish in Thunder Valley, a result which has left the veteran with a little swagger behind his step.
“I walked into Bristol and saw that beautiful blue and black truck and figured it was ready to race,” Hornaday expressed in the media center. “We (just) kinda abused the tires on that last stint. Each week this team is getting better though. It shows with the way we are running on the track. A win’s right around the corner.”
ThorSport Racing rounded out the top five with 2013 Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton finishing in the fourth position and current points leader Johnny Sauter completing an up-and-down race in fifth.
Rookie John Hunter Nemechek finished sixth followed by Joey Coulter, Cole Custer, and Ben Rhodes. Corey Lajoie rounded out the top-10 with a successful showing for Ricky Benton Racing.
The 200 laps started with a duel between fellow Sprint Cup drivers Keselowski and Busch until Lap 15 when Jake Crum and Bryan Silas made contact that would collect championship contender Timothy Peters and draw the caution flag for the first time in the race.
On the ensuing restart it was Busch utilizing the preferred high line with Keselowski pressuring the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota on the bottom line.
The two veterans battled lap-after-lap before Keselowski pulled ahead as the competition caution flew at lap 50, slowing the field for the second time.
After drivers completed their stops it was Busch coming out with the advantage over Keselowski and Hornaday, the same top three that would pace the field until Lap 127 when the plot finally shifted.
With just 73 laps remaining, Busch slide a little high on the racetrack allowing Keselowski to muscle past and into the race lead.
Eighteen laps later, at Lap 145 — the ‘big one’ at Bristol happened.
Returning from a mild concussion this week, John Wes Townley tagged Gray Gaulding’s right side in Turn 2, causing mayhem to break out down the backstretch.
Townley’s Toyota was clipped in the rear sending him skidding into the inside wall and collecting ARCA Racing Series driver Justin Boston and rookie driver Brandon Jones.
Following an extensive cleanup, the green flag came out again and it was Bubba Wallace getting past his boss Busch for the third position and then hunting down Keselowski for the race lead, however Wallace was no match for the BKR Ford over the final laps.
After leading 81 laps Busch’s tire would flatten on Lap 171 forcing him to relinquish his top five running position. Busch ultimately finished six laps down in the 24th position.
Busch now turns his attention towards Friday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Bristol where he’ll look to add to his dominating resume at the concrete half-mile.
The Camping World Truck Series turns right and left for their next event, the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park next Sunday; the inaugural race was won by Chase Elliott last season.