NEWTON, Iowa — Brad Keselowski had to overcome a 1,000-mile flight, a pit row violation and an overheating engine just to earn a shot at the lead.
Once Keselowski got his chance, it became perfectly clear who the only Sprint Cup regular in the field was.
Keselowski took control with 35 laps left to win the NASCAR Nationwide race at Iowa Speedway on Saturday night.
The defending Sprint Cup champion has won in his last three Nationwide starts, also topping the field at Richmond in April and Kentucky in June.
Keselowski flew in Saturday afternoon from Pocono Raceway, where NASCAR’s top series raced Sunday. Keselowski was then sent to the back after a tire flew outside the box on an early pit stop, and engine issues threatened to derail him about halfway through the race.
Keselowski persevered though, emerging with his second win in four tries on Iowa’s .875-mile oval.
“As a driver, those are probably some of the most difficult moments knowing you have a fast race car and knowing that circumstances are playing against you,” Keselowski said. “You can let the moment define you, or you can define the moment.”
Points leader Austin Dillon led a race-high 116 laps, but gave up a huge lead following a late caution.
Sam Hornish Jr. was second, followed by Brian Vickers, Dillon and Kyle Larson.
Keselowski, like every other driver in the field, spent much of the race looking at the back of Dillon’s No. 3 car.
Dillon led all but 43 laps in the first Iowa race back in June, but he finished second to Trevor Bayne.
Dillon again had a dominant car Saturday, taking control a third of the way through the race.
This time, a late caution flag changed everything.
Dillon led by as many as 7 seconds — or over a quarter of the 0.875-mile track — before a blown tire by Travis Pastrana drew out the flag and allowed the field to pit with 50 laps left.
Dillon took four tires and fell back to fifth as Bayne took the lead on the restart. Keselowski, who won the inaugural Nationwide race on Iowa’s oval in 2009, surged to the front and held off a charging Hornish for his third win of the season.
Keselowski reminisced about that landmark win four years ago — when he was among those Nationwide regulars chasing a Sprint Cup star, Kyle Busch.
“That was a race where, similar to (Saturday), I had to fight through some adversity with different strategies,” Keselowski said.
Drew Herring, in the No. 54 car for Joe Gibbs Racing normally driven by Busch, was the surprise winner of his first career pole.
Busch has won eight Nationwide races in 15 starts in 2013. But like every Sprint Cup regular except for Keselowski, he stayed in Pocono to prepare for Sunday’s race.
Herring, who was joined on the front row by Regan Smith, gave the lead away after just 27 laps. He also spun out on the 55th lap — drawing a caution to end the longest green-flag start of the season.
The flag did Keselowski no favors, as he was flagged for that tire violation. But Keselowski remained competitive despite all of his issues, posting his first career victory in a race where he was called for a pit row violation.
“He made some really aggressive moves on the next to last restart to put himself in position, and I couldn’t believe how fast he was there once he got out front,” said Hornish, Keselowski’s teammate at Penske Racing. “Nothing seems to amaze me when it comes to what he’s able to do when he’s sitting in these Nationwide cars.”
Ryan Gifford was ninth in his first career Nationwide start.
Bayne, who gave the No. 6 Roush-Fenway Racing car its fourth victory in five tries at Iowa in June, finished 10th.