A wide smile easily came over Brad Keselowski’s face late Sunday afternoon. No, not just because he was leaving New Hampshire Motor Speedway as the victor and proud owner of a coveted lobster.
In his post-race Zoom video conference, which NASCAR has been using for its media availabilities in the COVID-era, Keselowski lit up when asked if it’s enjoyable from behind the wheel to swap the lead with another driver repeatedly. In this case, it was Keselowski and Denny Hamlin, who went to battle throughout 301 laps.
“Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah, that was a lot of fun,” smiled Keselowski.
Keselowski and Hamlin were the class of the field. The two combined to lead 276 of 301 laps, and they traded the lead 13 times. In the end, Keselowski led 184 laps on his own, while Hamlin led 92.
And the two weren’t afraid to get up close and personal either. In the first 70 laps, Hamlin and Keselowski used the front bumpers and knocked each other around to create the space and challenge when needed to make a pass. Even Keselowski’s teammate, Ryan Blaney, joined the fray, making it a three-car battle through the first stage.
“He [Hamlin] was pretty good on restarts and real short runs, and we were really good on the longer runs, and the PJ1 kept coming and going,” explained Keselowski. “One lap it would be in or not in, the next it would be in, and then it would wear off the racetrack. And the low downforce on the cars was awesome because you could run behind somebody and not just be stupid slow, so that was really cool, and I felt we put on a great race.
“I was really proud of it and proud of it for our sport and our team. Obviously, proud for our team because we won, but proud for our sport because we got away from rules that didn’t make for good races, and we went to rules that I think make for good driver battles, and Denny and I had a heck of a battle.”
In all, there were 22 lead changes among seven drivers. But Keselowski and Hamlin were the only two drivers who led multiple times, with no other driver out front for more than nine laps.
“It felt like short-track racing, like half-mile short-track racing,” said Hamlin. “We were crossing each other over and running into each other, and kind of knocking each other up the racetrack. We were doing slide jobs in the middle of the corner. It was fun racing those guys.”
The PJ1 was applied on race morning, but only to the lower groove and then the third and upper lanes. Cup Series teams were also running the high-horsepower, low downforce (small spoiler) rules package, which NASCAR officials put in place for road courses and short-tracks this season.
Hamlin admitted he was a little slower than Keselowski, and faded after losing the lead for the final time on lap 221. As the race wound down, Hamlin took to his team radio to express how great he felt the racing was between he and Keselowski. Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing team said they were enjoying the show.
“They were very, very deserving today, and I’m happy for them because you hate to have a fast car, and you don’t finish it off,” said Hamlin. “I felt the two best cars finished 1-2 today, and they got the better end of us. But overall, the racing part of it, I was just having a good time there racing on the short run and even that long run at the end of the first stage with the Penske cars. It was fun.”
Excluding the superspeedway races, New Hampshire had the third-most lead changes in a race this season behind Texas (29) and Las Vegas (25).