UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
More Sports

Five things we learned at Kansas

With summer fast approaching, temperatures were rising for Sprint Cup's first-ever June trip to Kansas Speedway for Sunday's STP 400.

This was the first of two races at the 1½-mile oval to go along with the Hollywood Casino 400, the traditional October race that has been part of NASCAR's schedule since 2001.

The reading may have been in the high 90s, but drivers and teams who kept their cool excelled either with victory or a productive day in the points race.

So let's jump into the "Five Things We Learned at Kansas."

1. It's a clutch win for Brad Keselowski. Once again, a NASCAR Sprint Cup race was decided by fuel mileage and nobody understood it better than Brad Keselowski. The Penske Racing driver won after running the final 57 laps on one tank of fuel. He used the clutch to conserve once he took the lead with nine laps remaining. It was his first victory in 75 races. His first Cup win came in the controversial last-lap crash that sent Carl Edwards' Ford into the fence and nearly into the grandstands as they headed to the checkered flag in April, 2009 at Talladega.

Keselowski's second career Cup win came with much less drama.

"We've been so close. We've been plugging away," Keselowski said. "We had a car that I thought was capable of winning. We could just never catch that good break. You can only put yourself in that position so many times before you're going to catch the right break. We caught a great break today because of all the hard work by the team that works on these Dodge Chargers. We got great gas mileage and that doesn't hurt either.

"There are some secrets to saving fuel and I just maximized them all. I had plenty (of fuel) left. Nobody really told me that we were leading. I don't know when I took the lead. The scoreboard is right in the middle of the racetrack and I looked over and saw my name on the top with two to go. I started shaking. I'm glad that they didn't tell me. It's because of the hard work. It's because of the bad finishes and the struggles that we had to get here that I really appreciate this win A few more wins like this and we can make the Chase."

There is a method to saving fuel -- it was the second-straight Cup race that was determined by fuel mileage. Some drivers start conserving early by easing on the throttle or not putting the gas pedal all the way to the floor. But in dire straits toward the end of a run, drivers either get off the throttle completely or engage the clutch to coast in an effort to save fuel.

By understanding this strategy, Keselowski was able to "coast and collect." It was his first win since joining Penske Racing in 2010. It was the first win for Penske Racing since Kurt Busch drove the No. 2 car to victory in the 2010 Coca-Cola 600.

"I think we've made a lot of progress the last several weeks," team owner Roger Penske said. "This is a real step up for us. These are the tracks that were tough for us, the one-and-a-half miles. It looks like we have a handle on these now. We'll see what happens."

2. Earnhardt gets burned again in a fuel mileage game. For the second straight race, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. didn't catch a break when it comes to fuel mileage. Entering the contest, it had been 105 races since Earnhardt last drove to victory (Michigan 2008). He was on his way to victory in last Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 before running out of fuel in the last turn of the last lap at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sunday, Earnhardt and Denny Hamlin were in position to stretch their final tank to the distance because the drivers in front of him were going to have to pit. Of course, that was foiled when Keselowski was able to go the distance.

"I had a good car, I spun out up there trying to find a little more speed on the top," Earnhardt said of an incident earlier in the race. "I spun out there that one time trying to find some speed. It was just real loose, which I liked. It was hot and slick and that is the way I like it. I was just trying to get a little too much there and lost track position. We had a good car though, it was fast all day."

Earnhardt has climbed his way to third in points and is close to breaking his long winless streak. Although his fuel strategy didn't work, it is obvious the combination of Earnhardt and crew chief Steve Letarte is working at Hendrick Motorsports. By putting themselves in a position to win as they have done the past several weeks it's only a matter of time before Dale Jr. will celebrate a win.

3. Richard Childress isn't afraid to take matters into his own hands. Team owner Richard Childress warned rival driver Kyle Busch at Darlington Raceway "touch another piece of my equipment and I'm going to come and hit you." Childress lived up to that promise after Saturday's NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race when Busch was involved in a bumping incident with Childress driver Joey Coulter. On the cool down lap after the race, Busch pulled alongside Coulter's truck causing it to swerve.

Childress, 65, had seen enough and took off an expensive watch and confronted Busch in the garage area after the race. According to reports, Childress struck Busch with his fists and then put him in a headlock and kept punching him before it was broken up.

NASCAR issued a statement saying the incident was "unacceptable and one that will not be tolerated" and they "do not want this situation to escalate any further."

NASCAR officials met with Childress and Busch on Sunday morning. Busch, who was placed on four-race probation after dumping the Richard Childress Racing car driven by Kevin Harvick on pit road after last month's Southern 500 when the two were involved in an altercation, spoke about the incident before Sunday's race.

NASCAR indicates what happened on Saturday will not impact Busch's probation, but Childress will likely get some severe penalties for his role in the fight.

"Fortunately, NASCAR is taking the situation seriously and is looking into it, and making their decisions based what facts they can discover," Busch said. "I met with NASCAR (Sunday morning) and just discussed with them the incident to my best recollection and from there they will take all their discoveries and all their findings and make the best decision they feel possible."

When asked if NASCAR should penalize Childress, Busch said, "That's not my decision. That's NASCAR's decision. Whatever they feel best to protect their sport and to protect what we have going on here is to their best discretion. I'm all for whatever they decide to do.

"I'm going to leave it up to NASCAR and let them decide what they feel is best."

Childress was advised by NASCAR not to comment on the incident and he declined interviews with reporters on Sunday before the race. Busch went on to finish 12th in the Cup race.

That a 65-year-old team owner got physical with a 26-year-old driver makes this story fascinating. Busch did the prudent thing by not fighting back against a man nearly three times his age and that act of discretion is what will probably keep him out of trouble.

Richard Childress Racing is one of NASCAR's most successful teams. The late Dale Earnhardt won six of his seven Cup championship wish RCR and the team became known as the "Junkyard Dogs."

Apparently, these dogs still know how to bite and that is why Childress may be sent to NASCAR's dog pound.

"When an owner steps over the line, I think they are going to make an example of him," former driver Darrell Waltrip said.

4. Carl Edwards solidified his Cup lead after another top-five finish. Kansas Speedway is the closest NASCAR track to Carl Edwards' hometown of Columbia, Mo., but he has never won a Cup race at that facility. And he still hasn't, settling for a fifth-place finish. In the big picture, a top-five is just as good as a victory because it helps solidify him atop the Sprint Cup standings.

"I really wanted to win and it is really hard to win here," Edwards explained. "Today was a little bit extra difficult because the track was changing a lot."

Edwards believed his Ford was superior in the first half of the race but, as track conditions changed, the car lost its competitive edge.

"We had a restart and I went backward in a hurry and I thought we had to really gather it up," he said. "We did that and made it up to fifth. I had a good time though. It is a fun racetrack and it is my new favorite racetrack. When it is hot and slick like this you can slide the cars around and run multiple grooves. It is a lot of fun and I like it."

Edwards is NASCAR's most physically fit driver so racing under such hot and humid conditions gives him an edge. Statistically, top five finishes are vitally important in a NASCAR points race and by collecting another one on Sunday, Edwards remains on top of the heap. And as the temperatures and the racing heat up, Edwards will excel.

5. The best car doesn't always win. After starting on the pole and leading much of the race, Kurt Busch seemed to have the best car. But, with the race ending with a long green-flag run, his victory bid ended when he had to pit -- while leading -- with nine laps left.

His ninth-place finish is not indicative of how good Busch was in this contest.

"To have a car to lead laps today and be very competitive, I was all smiles," Busch said. "There was always something in the back of my mind today that we weren't going to win. It's just one of those days where you're on the right side, sometimes you're not. For all my guys, we'll take this one and the points. I'm not discouraged at all."

Close

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Just follow these 4 easy steps:

  1. Click the Chrome menu on the browser toolbar.
  2. Select Bookmarks.
  3. Select Bookmark manager.
  4. Locate your current Sports Illustrated bookmark, click the Organize menu, then select Edit. You can now easily update the web address of your Sports Illustrated bookmark.

    Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Just follow these 2 easy steps:

  1. Click the Safari bookmark manager on the browser toolbar.
  2. This will open the Bookmarks Bar. In the Bookmarks Bar, select your Sports Illustrated bookmark and manually edit the Address field.

    Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.

To continue enjoying content from the most trusted name is sports, please be sure to update your current bookmark.

Just follow these 3 easy steps:

  1. Click the Firefox bookmark manager on the browser toolbar.
  2. Select Show All Bookmarks.
  3. This will open the library window. In the Library window, select your Sports Illustrated bookmark and manually edit the Location field.

    Our updated web address is http://www.si.com.
Don't Show This Again