WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Brad Keselowski has always had a fondness for Watkins Glen International, and that fondness just grew a bit more.
The reigning Sprint Cup champion, who had finished second three times in the past two years at The Glen, led 49 laps in the Nationwide Zippo 200 and finally notched that elusive first career road course victory Saturday.
“I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. I can remember coming here with my dad (in the 1990s), just always having a love affair with this track,” said Keselowski, runner-up to Marcos Ambrose in the past two Cup races at the track. “There’s something about this track. I have a very deep appreciation for it. It’s been a great race track for me.”
Keselowski passed Joey Logano for the lead with 16 laps to go, then held off Sam Hornish Jr. in a dominant performance for Penske Racing.
Keselowski, who finished second to Carl Edwards despite leading more than half of this race a year ago, won for the fourth straight time over five months in NASCAR’s second-tier series. It was his 24th career Nationwide win, tying him with Tommy Houston for eighth place on the career list.
Brian Vickers was third, followed by Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler. Logano finished 21st after running out of gas on the final lap, his team’s fuel strategy backfiring.
Hornish won the pole and set sail with Keselowski at the outset after Kyle Busch crashed on the first turn of the 82-lap race.
“Kyle getting torn up, it was pretty apparent that all three of our cars had a shot to win the race if we just didn’t do something dumb,” Keselowski said. “So I tried to not do something dumb the whole race.”
Busch wasn’t so fortunate. He started second but lost control of his No. 54 Toyota, sliding sideways after apparently tapping the rear bumper of Hornish as they drove through the first turn, a downhill 90-degree right-hander. Busch’s spotter had just cleared him to make a move under Hornish.
Busch briefly touched the Armco barrier that lines the track and was OK, but Mike Wallace, in midpack and unaware Busch was there, pulled right to make a pass and slammed the left front of Busch’s car.
“I’m sorry guys,” Busch said over his radio as he drove to the garage for repairs. Busch, who was seeking his ninth victory of the season and 60th in the series, finished five laps down in 24th.
Wallace’s No. 01 Chevrolet was crushed, too, as was his psyche.
“I went to the right, Wallace said. “You wouldn’t expect him to be spun out that early in the race. We were just trying to get through the first lap. It’s disappointing.”
After that, it was a show between Hornish and Keselowski as the three Penske Fords combined to lead all but nine laps.
Hornish managed to close on Keselowski’s back bumper with six laps remaining, but that was as close as he got. Keselowski pulled away over the final two laps and won by 1.4 seconds.
“I was focused on trying to pass the 22 (Keselowski),” Hornish said. “I had driven for over 100 percent and I couldn’t even get beside him. I could get up to his bumper. I just had to settle down a bit. I needed to sit there and ride.”
Smart move. Hornish closed to within three points of the series lead behind Austin Dillon, who struggled with a sputtering car and finished 11th.
The solid day moved Penske within five points of Joe Gibbs Racing for the owners’ points lead.