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LATE RACE SCRAMBLE SEES KESELOWSKI WIN KROGER 200 AT LUCAS OIL RACEWAY
Author: Mark W. Theisen
July 30th 2011 -   CLERMONT, INDIANA July 30, 2011:   What looked to be a romp for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and the Ford Mustangs from Roush Fenway Racing went away late in tonight’s Kroger 200 for the NASCAR Nationwide series at Lucas Oil Raceway Park and when the dust settled it was defending series champion Brad Keselowski winning what, more than likely, will be the last series race at the track for some time to come.
     Stenhouse had dominated the action at the track from the time he took to the track in practice, through qualifying and well into the race when a series of accidents brought the field back to him and then a green-white-checkered finish pitted him against Keselowski and James Buescher with the end result being the youngster upstaged by a more experienced driver when it came to the “push and shove” racing that is so common on a short tight oval.
     The day began on a somber note for fans of what was originally known at Indianapolis Raceway Park.  The facility has hosted a NASCAR Nationwide race, formerly the Sportsman Series and then the Busch series since 1982 but NASCAR announced earlier this year that the race would move to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway commencing next year, thus tonight would be the final event in the current series.
     Ironically, Morgan Shepherd the winner of the first race back in 1982, qualified for this race tonight although his role in racing has become more and more a field filler than a contender yet he relishes the fact that at 60 plus years he is still able to field a car capable of making the race week in and week out.
     While Stenhouse was capturing the pole for the race Elliott Sadler, who lost his series point lead last week at Nashville, saws his woes continue this week when he crashed on his qualification attempt.  With 42 cars entered he was assured of a spot in the starting field with either a back up car or his primary entry but they decided on repairing the primary car at the urge from Sadler because he believed it to be a better car.  He started the race last.
     Stenhouse quickly pulled to a lead over Keselowski, who qualified second, Justin Allgaier, Carl Edwards and Trevor Bayne and as the early laps wore on it was Stenhouse’s Ford being joined by his Roush teammates Edwards and Bayne at the front.
     The first yellow flag of the race was waived on lap 48 for debris reported on the track and that yellow sent the entire field into the pits for their first pit stop of the race.
     Edwards won the race off of pit road when Stenhouse was blocked in his pit momentarily by Steve Wallace and when the race restarted on lap 54 it was Edwards, Stenhouse, Keselowski, Allgaier and Bayne with Sadler moving from dead last to 12th by this point of the race aided by a fast pit stop by his crew from Kevin Harvick Racing.
     Before the cars entered the third turn of the first restart lap Stenhouse moved round Edwards to show just how his Ford Mustang was and by the 95th lap it was the Roush trio running one, two and three.
     Debris on the track slowed the race again on lap 144 and once again it was wholesale pit stops with Stenhouse coming out first this time but right behind him was Michael Annett, whose team opted for two tires to gain him track position, while the rest of the cars took on all four.
     When the green flag came back out on lap 120 it was Stenhouse, Annett, Edwards, Bayne and Austin Dillon in the top five with Sadler now in 6th as his incredible drive to the front continued.
          Annett’s decision for two tires was quickly proved wrong when Edwards, Bayne and Sadler sent him back in the field and at this point of the race Keselowski began to back off with smoke coming from the rear of his cars.  He was not overheating however a tire rub was forcing him to be conservative with his tires until being able to stop.
     With the Roush gang leading the field and the race running at a record pace the problematic set-up equation that the race start in daylight and end in darkness might be thrown out the window with dark never happening but that all went for naught on the 173rd lap when the lapped car of Tim Andrews came down on Annett sending both cars had into the wall between turns three and four.
     Annett’s team car, driven by Wallace, was unable to slow down in time after being nudged by Buescher and he slammed into both idled cars and that brought out the red flag to clear the tack now completely blocked in the corner.
     At 9:19 P.M. with darkness now over the track, the cars were re-fired and the pits were open setting up the tell-tale battle off pit road for track position.  
     Dillon stayed on the track opting not to pit while the rest of the lead cars took to the pits.  The Roush cars were all off their pit stalls about the same time and as the pair “raced” down pit road Edwards was nabbed for speeding and sent to the rear for the restart, the second race in a row that Edwards was accessed such a penalty.  Last week, at Nashville, it was earlier in the race and he overcame it for the win, tonight his challenge was much greater.
     The green flag came out on lap 183 with Dillon leading Stenhouse, Bayne, Sadler, and Michael McDowell but before the pack moved out of the second turn Stenhouse, with his new tires was back in the lead with Bayne right behind.
     On lap 188 Bayne’s incredible drive ended in smoke when the engine on his car blew leaving Stenhouse as the only Roush car now at the front.  “You’ve got to be kidding me,” screamed Bayne over the radio after the engine expired.  Late he said, “It’s just frustrating that it had to happen so late in the race.  We were going so well and then it is over.  This is my first engine failure at Roush, so it is a rarity, but yet it is still hard to take.”
    Dillon chose this yellow to make his pit stop while the rest of the field stayed on the track but now fire was noticed coming from the wheel well on Allgaier’s car and he was blacked flag off the track with his car now fully engulfed in flames.  He safely exited the car in the pits but his night ended in disappointment as well.
     The restart now featured Keselowski along side Bayne with Sadler in third and Buescher in fourth.  When the green flag came out Keselowski’s short track experience came to light as he “leaned” hard on Stenhouse and the contact slowed the latter for second and that allowed Keselowski to take the lead at the end of lap 197.
     Sadler’s tremendous recovery drive ended a lap later when he spun in the third turn collecting Dillon, his teammate in the process.  With the caution coming out it set up a green-white-checkered finish giving Stenhouse another shot for the win.
     Stenhouse tried valiantly to re-gain his lead but Keselowski did what he had to do and kept his car as wide as possible and he came away at the end stealing the win in dramatic fashion for leading just seven laps while Stenhouse had led 189.  Stenhouse lost second to Buescher on the final of 204th lap of the race after a review of the finish that saw Buescher just a scant inch in front at the line.
     Aric Almirola used the late race confusion to post a fourth place finish while Edwards came back from his penalty to take fifth.  “One more caution there at the end and I would have been a factor,” said Edwards.  “I put us in the hole, it was my fault and I was doing my best to make something out of it.”
     “I’m glad we were able to make something out of it at the end,” said Keselowski.  “Ricky (Stenhouse) had us all covered and I feel sorry for him, he deserved the win but were all racers and when placed in a position to win, we do what we have to, and given the opportunity tonight I was able to do just that.”
     Keselowski became the 23rd different driver to win in the 30 series races here and said he was honored to have the distinction of winning the last race here but hoped that some day the series would come back.
     “It was a learning experience,” said Stenhouse.  “I have been working on my restarts all year long and it showed that I still have more to learn after tonight.  I have to take the disappointment of tonight and build off of it.  My team gave me such a strong car that I feel I let them down but hopefully I can come out ahead in one of these deals in the future.”
     Stenhouse replaced Reed Sorenson as the series point leader by 3 points with Sadler in third now 24 points behind as the series moves to Iowa.
    Travis Pastrana, the X Games and Moto-cross star, was to make his NASCAR debut tonight but that was shelved after a leg fracture on Thursday in an X Games wreck.  He was scheduled to do five races for Michael Waltrip Racing but that is all on hold while his leg heals.