INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Brad Keselowski planted an emphatic kiss on the yard of bricks at the finish line, becoming the first driver to celebrate a win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series.
Elliott Sadler was fuming, certain that he should have been celebrating instead.
Keselowski took the lead when Sadler was penalized for jumping a late restart, then held on to win a controversial finish to the inaugural Nationwide race Saturday at the historic 2.5-mile track.
Sadler passed Keselowski on a restart with 18 laps to go, but officials ruled that Sadler went too early and black-flagged him.
Sadler stayed on the track for several laps, apparently hoping officials would reconsider the penalty, before finally coming in with 12 laps to go and giving up the lead to Keselowski.
An agitated Sadler said Keselowski spun his tires on the restart — a brief loss of traction that would slow Keselowski down — and Sadler said he had no other choice but to surge forward because cars were stacking up behind him.
“You tell me what the protocol is if the leader beats me to the restart line — which he did and it’s on video just as clear as day — and then he spins his tires,” Sadler said. “It’s just like missing a shift. Do I stop and wait for him to get his shift right or do I stop and let him get his tires? Oh, yeah, by the way, I’m getting pushed by the 3 car, who’s also getting pushed by the 43 car.”
Keselowski said he hadn’t seen a replay, but his perception at the time was that Sadler was far enough ahead to justify the penalty.
“They just want it to be close and fair,” Keselowski said. “It was obvious that (Sadler) beat us by more than that. That’s NASCAR’s call.”
Sam Hornish Jr. was second, followed by Ty Dillon, Denny Hamlin and Austin Dillon.
The Dillon brothers are the grandsons of NASCAR team owner Richard Childress; Ty was making only his second career Nationwide start.
“I have to say congratulations to Ty after kicking my butt,” Austin Dillon said. “That was pretty impressive.”
Sadler finished 15th but held on to the Nationwide points lead. He leads Austin Dillon by one point.
“It’s hard to recover from stuff like this,” Sadler said. “We’re trying to rebound, but today, my heart was definitely ripped out of my chest and I don’t know why, and I still don’t know why right now.”
Danica Patrick’s day ended early after she collided with Reed Sorenson on lap 39.
It was another strong run for Hornish as the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner is trying to rebuild his racing reputation after a couple of rough seasons racing stock cars.
Hornish was happy to see his Penske Racing teammate win, but disappointed he wasn’t the one in victory lane.
“I guess if there’s a guy I can handle losing to, it’s Brad,” Hornish said. “But I want to win. To be that close, it would have been nice to be able to do that. There’s always next week, but there’s never a chance to win the inaugural (Indy) Nationwide race again.”
Kyle Busch dominated the first half of the race, but got shuffled back in the field during a round of pit stops on lap 63 and Hornish took the lead.
Keselowski then passed Hornish for the lead with 29 laps to go, and a caution came out shortly afterward. Busch was fourth on the subsequent restart but spun out right after the race went green. He managed to avoid major damage but lost his shot at the win.
Sadler then shot past Keselowski on a restart with 18 laps to go — but Sadler was black flagged for jumping the start.
With his crew pleading with NASCAR officials, Sadler stayed on the track instead of coming into the pits to serve the penalty. Sadler finally came in with 12 laps to go, fuming over the radio to his crew as he gave up the race lead and handed it back to Keselowski.
Adding Nationwide to Indy was part of an effort by officials to drum up interest and boost sagging attendance at the Brickyard 400. Indianapolis also added a Grand Am Series sports car race on the track’s infield road course on Friday.
But the addition of Nationwide to the weekend schedule didn’t prove to be an immediate hit with fans, as the grandstands were largely empty Saturday. Officials estimated attendance at 40,000.
Any fans who came to see Patrick race didn’t get to see much of her.
Patrick appeared to tap Sorenson’s back bumper going into Turn 1, causing the back end of Sorenson’s car to slide sideways. Sorenson nearly saved it, but his left-front wheel got into the infield grass, causing him to spin out. Patrick then hit Sorenson’s car, causing heavy damage.
“I got pretty close and I might have tapped him,” Patrick said in a television interview. “I’m not sure.”
Patrick said Sorenson slowed unexpectedly.
“I didn’t mean to take him out,” Patrick said. “I don’t know if he’s still going or not, but I’m sorry.”