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BRISTOL — The summer hot streak continues for Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski, driving the blue No. 2 Dodge for Roger Penske, passed Martin Truex Jr. for the lead on lap 421 and led the rest of the way to win Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
With his second win in four races and third win of the season, Keselowski virtually sewed up a spot in NASCAR’s “Chase for the Cup” 10-race playoffs. He wasn’t worried about that, however, after winning one of the sport’s marquee races.
“It’s awesome. The night race at Bristol,” Keselowski said. “Guys like Dale Earnhardt, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon have won this race. There are races which might pay more, races that might have a little more prestige, but this is the coolest race of them all.”
It is Keselowski’s second win in the past four Sprint Cup races, and he’s not finished any worse than third since breaking his ankle a month ago in a testing accident at Road Atlanta.
“Our team just believes in each other and we made great adjustments on the car,” said Keselowski. “That last pit stop, my crew got me out in front of the 24, and then we get by Martin on the restart. I can’t make any excuses out that I’m hurt. There can’t be any excuses.”
Keselowski had a winning margin of .951 seconds over Truex, who took two tires on his No. 56 Toyota on the final pit stops to grab the lead. Over the final 60 laps, Truex protected the high line on the track to hold off Gordon for the runner-up spot.
“It was a great night for all of us,” Truex said. “We took two earlier in the race and we were still able to drive up. Pretty much all night, we were as fast as the leaders. I couldn’t run with Brad the first five or six laps, and we just had to maintain our position after that.”
Jeff Gordon, who led a race-high 206 laps in his No. 24 Chevrolet, finished third after coming out of the final pit stops in sixth place.
“I used up so much of my stuff,” Gordon said. “There wasn’t a race for the win once Brad got out front and cleared traffic. Me, Martin, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, we had a heck of a battle out there. I felt we had the car to beat, but we didn’t get the track position we needed.”
Gordon said there were no hard feelings between he and Truex despite the hard battle for second place.
“Martin just did a great job of holding me off,” Gordon said. “He did a great job holding the high line. I hoped I could get up to him earlier than I did. The more time it took, the less of an advantage my four tires were.”
Five-time defending series champion Jimmie Johnson finished fourth to tie 14th-place finisher Kyle Busch for the series points lead. Both drivers clinched spots in the Chase as did sixth-place finisher Matt Kenseth and ninth-place finisher Carl Edwards.
Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five, while Denny Hamlin was seventh and pole sitter Ryan Newman was eighth.
Some of the other Chase contenders struggled to different degrees.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 16th, while Kevin Harvick ended up 22nd. Tony Stewart finished 28th after not being a factor all race long.
Up front, the only bad luck to beset Keselowski was hitting the fence up the ramp to victory lane. That still couldn’t dampen the mood for the 27-year-old Michigan racer who scored his fourth career Cup Series win.
“This is Bristol, baby,” Keselowski said. “You win here in front of the best fans in NASCAR. It wasn’t easy, but we found a way to get it done tonight.”