BRISTOL, Tenn. — Brad Keselowski grabbed his first win of the season Sunday, holding off Matt Kenseth on a late restart to win at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Keselowski led a career-best and race-high 231 laps, but battled back and forth with Kenseth for the final third of the race. Kenseth beat him on an earlier restart, and Keselowski had to chase him down to reclaim the lead.
Then a late caution when Tony Stewart hit the wall put Keselowski’s win in jeopardy.
“I’ve got no clue what to do here,” he radioed his Penske Racing team.
Crew chief Paul Wolfe left him on the track, where he had to again deal with Kenseth on a restart with 17 laps remaining. Keselowski had no problems holding him off, choosing to restart on the outside, and he easily pulled away for the victory.
He even taunted Wolfe over the final two laps, asking the crew chief twice to admit he was nervous about the outcome.
Wolfe had nothing to worry about, as Keselowski cruised his Dodge to Victory Lane and immediately began taking pictures with his phone to post to Twitter.
“Matt didn’t make it easy,” Keselowski said. “That’s his job, to not make it easy on me. He raced me hard; I raced him hard, rubbed a little bit. That’s good racing.”
Kenseth, the Daytona 500 winner, settled for second in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford and wasn’t sure if Keselowski electing to restart on the outside was the difference.
“If I’d have been on the top, maybe I could have pinned him down there,” Kenseth said. “But on old tires, I knew he was going to choose the top.”
The three Toyotas from Michael Waltrip Racing capped an impressive day by rounding out the top five — a feat that marked a strong return to racing for Brian Vickers.
Martin Truex Jr. led the MWR contingent with a third-place finish and was followed by Bowyer and Vickers, who ran his first race of the season. Out of work since Red Bull Racing closed at the end of last season, Vickers was tabbed last week to run six of the races that MWR driver Mark Martin sits out this season.
He had a strong debut race, leading a career-high 125 laps. In 14 previous races at Bristol, Vickers had led only one lap, never finished in the top 10 and ended on the lead lap only four times.
Jeff Burton was sixth in a Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing and was followed by Earnhardt Ganassi Racing teammates Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Jimmie Johnson finished ninth in what is likely his last race for some time with crew chief Chad Knaus. Hendrick Motorsports goes before NASCAR’s chief appellate officer Tuesday, trying to get Knaus’ six-race suspension overturned. NASCAR punished Knaus and the team because their Chevrolet failed the opening day inspection at last month’s Daytona 500.
Paul Menard and Kevin Harvick finished 10th and 11th to give RCR three cars in the top 11. Harvick managed to pull off the finish despite damage sustained in a seven-car accident 24 laps into the race. The accident was caused when Kasey Kahne ran into Regan Smith after passing him, and it continued the horrendous start to the season Kahne is having with Hendrick Motorsports. He finished 37th, and through four races Kahne is 32nd in points.