Before the Duck Commander 500 even got to full speed, Brad Keselowski was in the pits.
The blast of air from the jet dryers on the track, wicking away the last traces of moisture from the racing surface as the race began under caution, damaged the hood and flaps on his car and those of other drivers.
But it did not keep Keselowski from having a chance to win. Like the other drivers, he was allowed to repair without penalty, and he led 85 laps. He had a chance to win before a speeding penalty on pit road cost him and left him with a 15th-place finish.
“Yeah, a normal pit road deal,” he said. “We’re in it for wins. We’re not in it for finishing second. Second or 15th is the same for us, so you’ve got to go for the win.”
Keselowski called the damage from the dryer air “one of those freak deals” and credited his team for fixing it and getting the car in shape to win.
“We just needed a little bit more for the 22 but had a really good day going until the end,” he said. “The last caution was a shame. I was just trying to get a little too much on pit road and wanted to get us out front to be able to win the race and tried a little bit too hard.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. blamed himself for driving his car into the grass on the second lap of green-flag racing, causing him to crash into the outside wall, where his car caught fire and knocked him out of the race.
He wound up last, in 43rd place, and lost the points lead. He is sixth, trailing new leader Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, race winner Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.
“Just didn’t see the grass,” he said, explaining an attempt to dip below Aric Almirola coming out of the dogleg into the frontstretch. “Didn’t know the grass was down there. With the way the A-post is on these cars, you can’t really see that good to that angle. I just didn’t have a good visual of where the apron and the grass was and got down in there pretty good.”
‘Surreal’ for Johnson
Jimmie Johnson, who finished 25th, called it “surreal” when debris and mud from Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s car in the grass damaged his windshield and left front. But he said he recovered from that and would have been fine if not for a flat tire later.
“We were OK, and then I don’t know if I ran something over on the track or what, but something really big hit the bottom side of my car,” he said. “That, I think, punctured our right rear tire. We were running decent lap times when the right rear blew.
“I’m glad Junior is all right, and hats off to my guys today. We played around with some strategy at the end. They never gave up.”
Kevin Harvick, who in qualifying on Saturday turned the fastest NASCAR lap ever at TMS, went out of the race on Lap 28 when his No. 4 Chevrolet blew the engine.
It continued a frustrating season for the veteran driver, who despite a win at Phoenix in the second race of the season has now recorded his fourth finish of 36th or worse. He dropped a spot to 26th in the points standings, putting him near the 30th-place cutoff mark to be Chase eligible.
“I don’t know what else I can say,” Harvick said. “I didn’t get any indication that anything was going wrong. Hendrick engines are among the fastest and most reliable engines in the garage. We’ll take it back to the shop and figure out what happened. But that’s a disappointing end to the day.”
Greg Biffle, a former TMS winner, said his sixth-place finish shows he is getting better but it’s not good enough yet.
It was only his second top-10 finish of the season. But at TMS, he’s usually top 10. This was his 11th such finish in his past 12 starts here.
Denny Hamlin said track position mattered so much he had to try extra hard on pit road. That led to his speeding penalty on Lap 141 as the race leader.
“Track position was everything. I had to give myself a chance on pit road,” he said.
Hamlin, who started sixth, got back into the top 10 after the penalty but settled at 13th.
“Our car was way better than 13th,” he said. “We had a top-five car — just didn’t finish that well.”
A two-tire stop on the final caution gave Brian Vickers a fourth-place finish, his best at TMS. His previous best was eighth in November. His best Nationwide finish at TMS is sixth.
“We probably didn’t have a car to win, but we made the most of it,” he said.