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Keselowski at right place, right time

FONTANA, Calif. -- Brad Keselowski says all drivers have days when they leave the race track and wonder how in the world they lost the race.

Keselowski left Auto Club Speedway with similar exasperation Sunday afternoon. Only it was exasperation mixed with joy as he went from 17th on Lap 202 to the victory on Lap 209 in the Auto Club 400.

It was one of those days when strategy and a very good car beat the class of the field. And Keselowski will certainly take it.

"When you win today, you temper that with the knowledge you're going to lose one like this," Keselowski said. "You're going to have a dominant car one day, and there's going to come a sequence of fluke events that's going to cost you a win. You're going to look around and go, 'How did I lose?' You're going to be really angry.

"The only thing you can do is be really happy when you win like today to kind of offset that. That's how racing goes."

This is how it went for Keselowski:

When a controversial caution came out for debris with Kurt Busch leading on Lap 199 -- NASCAR officials say they had a piece of metal on the track that was then hit by a car after the caution was called -- most of the lead-lap cars came in to pit.

Three drivers stayed out while nine drivers, including Busch, took two tires and many others took four. Keselowksi, who was fifth, dropped to 17th by taking those four fresh tires instead of two.

On the ensuing restart, Keselowski went from 17th to sixth by Turn 2, and the caution came out again for a rear bumper cover being knocked off one of the cars.

"When the yellow came out, the bumper, I was kind of mad because I felt like I had a big run and I felt like I could get up to maybe second or third," Keselowski said. "I really hadn't kind of reset.

"[Crew chief Paul Wolfe] said it to me probably a lap later, 'No, this is actually really good, to grip you back up, maybe win the race.' I was like, 'Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.' "

In the right lane -- the outside lane -- for the restart, Keselowski easily ran down the leaders and passed the sitting duck Busch to lead his first lap all day.

The final lap.

"It's picking the right lane and hoping that it comes together," Keselowski said. "For us it did at the end. ... At the end we caught some breaks, made the most of the breaks we caught. That was kind of the story of our race."

While Keselowski celebrated, other drivers looking for their first win this season saw it slip away thanks to cautions. Matt Kenseth was leading on Lap 186 when the caution came out for debris. He pitted and promptly broke a rear axle as he sped off pit road.

But the one who truly had to feel the win slip away was Busch, who had led every practice all weekend and started on the pole for the race.

Before the final restart on the Busch team radio, someone asked crew chief Tony Gibson what he was looking at as television and track monitors showed him looking up to the sky. Gibson replied he was praying.

This prayer wasn't answered. But it would be hard for Busch and Gibson to complain.

Busch has had two successful races since his return from what turned into a three-race suspension for what a Delaware family court commissioner determined was as an act of domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend.

With NASCAR lifting the suspension a week after prosecutors declined to press charges, Busch has returned behind the wheel with intense focus and his usual pinpoint determination.

He led 65 laps Sunday and appeared to be the class of the field along with teammate Kevin Harvick, who led 34 laps.

"I don't know what we could have done different," Busch said. "We just got pinned in by the yellows and the sequence at the end on which tires we needed to have to optimize how many laps were left.

"We had two tires; Keselowski had four. We didn't need that extra yellow at the end and I just got out muscled by Keselowski."

Of course, there will be conspiracy theories indicating that NASCAR didn't want Busch to win so recently after it reinstated him. But NASCAR wouldn't have let him back without knowing this was a strong possibility.

Busch and Gibson ran well when paired together last year, and there was no reason to doubt they would be successful this year.

There would be a significant portion of the NASCAR fan base that would love for Busch to win, considering they feel he was penalized unjustly because criminal charges were never brought.

"It's strictly a process that we go through [to call a caution]," NASCAR Sprint Cup Series director Richard Buck said. "We don't have any favorites. We try to keep every emotion out of it. ... We feel very, very confident about our actions."

And while he didn't leave with a victory, Busch should feel very, very confident about his season.

Busch already is 28th in the standings and with the waiver that he could still be Chase eligible with a win even though he hasn't been at every race, few believe he will go winless this season.

As long as his Stewart-Haas Racing team keeps bringing cars to the race track like the one he had Sunday, he'll win races. He might even win one the way Keselowski did. And when he does, he'll be much more of a threat for the championship than Keselowski if Keselowski doesn't get any stronger.

The Team Penske driver, while showing some speed, hasn't had it as consistently as Harvick and Busch. Granted, no one has. But until he does, Keselowski's wins could more come by getting the best out of the car and with strategy as he did Sunday.

"The fastest lap of the race was run by Brad on the last lap," team owner Roger Penske said. "So we had speed in the car. I saw how good he was on one of the restarts. I think at the end of the day this is a game of knowing how to use your clubs.

"There's no question that Brad knows how to do that. He's delivered for us before. We know the competition is tough. To think that we have this kind of a kickoff for the team is a tremendous opportunity."

The kickoff includes a win for Joey Logano in the Daytona 500 and now Keselowski in the first five races. They now can relax and take the next 21 races to find the speed.

"I don't have to answer the questions from everybody about being nervous about making the Chase for the next few months," said Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion. "I think that puts you in a really great spot mentally to focus on the task at hand, which is still going out there and trying to win each and every week, even though you are locked in the Chase.

"But I think it eliminates a lot of outside distractions and allows you to put your most aggressive foot forward."