Some nights, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races just turns into a flat-out, good ol' fashioned beatdown.
That is what happened in Saturday night's Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway, as Brad Keselowski started from pole, led 199 of 267 laps, and handily beat all comers in scoring his second win of the 2014 campaign. It is the 2012 champion's second win in the Bluegrass State, as he also took the checkered flag during his title-winning campaign. Keselowski becomes the first man to repeat in the four Sprint Cup races at the Kentucky Speedway, after coming up tantilizingly short of winning both the Camping World Truck and Nationwide Series races on Thursday and Friday, respectively.
Kyle Busch finished second after surrendering the lead with fewer than 20 laps remaining. He had picked up the lead when Aric Almirola crashed to draw a caution during a pit cycle at lap 214. Busch had already made his pit stop but he managed to beat Keselowski to the line to stay on the lead lap. Once Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano (who ran first and second for most of the evening) hit the pit lane, Busch cycled to the lead, the first time all night a driver not out of the Team Penske camp had led the race. He ultimately held the top spot for 31 circuits before Keselowski moved back out front and pulled away to a victory of just over a second.
Ryan Newman finished third for his first top-five result with Richard Childress Racing, followed by defending race-champ Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jeff Gordon had troubles on pit road but rebounded for a sixth-place finish, ahead of Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne. Logano dropped a cylinder in the late going and faded gradually, but still held on for a ninth-place result after leading 37 circuits. Jimmie Johnson endured an up-and-down night before coming home with a tenth-place result.
Tony Stewart, who relinquished his 13th-place starting position, drove through the field for an 11th-place result. Paul Menard, meanwhile, ran among the top-10 for much of the night before finishing 15th in his bid for a third-consecutive top-five finish. Last week's winner Carl Edwards - in the final Sprint Cup race for UPS as a primary sponsor, as the company is leaving the sport after this season - finished a disappointing 17th in yet another down night for the Roush-Fenway group.
Rookie Michael Annett had a banner night, running in the top-20 for nearly the entirety of the evening and scoring an 18th-place finish, his best non-superspeedway result during his first season of Sprint Cup competition. He was two-spots worse than Austin Dillon, who took 16th and with it Rookie of the Race honors.
The other big rookie candidate, Kyle Larson, saw his night end early with a blown right front tire that sent his Chevy hard into the turn two wall on lap 76. Larson was uninjured but his demolished machine was done for the night, dooming him to a 41st-place finish. A similar fate had already befallen Denny Hamlin, who's right-front exploded as he entered the third turn on lap 28 (two laps before a scheduled competition caution flag) and hammered the wall. Hamlin, who of course has sturggled with injury issues in recent years, took his time to get out of his battered Camry but he walked to the ambulance under his own power. He was scored 42nd, the first driver out of the 400-mile event. It is Hamlin's first DNF since last October at Talladega and his first last-place finish in a Sprint Cup race since Dover in June 2008.
Gordon retains the lead in the standings with his sixth-place result by 24 points each on Johnson and Earnhardt. Keselowski and Kenseth complete the top-five. With his second win of the 2014 campaign, Keselowski joins teammate Logano, Earnhardt, Harvick, and Edwards with two wins and three-time winner Johnson as drivers who are guaranteed a spot in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. It will mark Keselowski's third Chase appearance after missing the playoff cut last season in his title defense.