SPARTA, Ky. (AP) — Brad Keselowski has a special gauge that lets him know how much fuel he has in whatever car he's driving: His behind.
It didn't fail him Friday night at Kentucky Speedway.
The defending NASCAR Nationwide Series champion used a light touch on the gas pedal over the final miles to pick up his first victory of the season, needing just one tank of fuel to navigate the last 67 laps and beat Kevin Harvick by over a second.
Kyle Busch, who started 41st after crashing during qualifying, was third followed by Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler.
"If you keep kind of paying in, the machine is going to pay out," Keselowski said. "If you keep doing the right things long enough, you will be rewarded and today was a day of reward."
Keselowski led 132 laps and spent the majority of the race pulling away from the rest of the 43-car field. Harvick was the only one able to stay within striking distance, but a late miscue cost him dearly.
Both drivers were attempting to stretch their fuel during the lengthy green flag run at the end when Harvick's crew ordered him to pit only to tell him to stay out at the last second and hope for a caution after another car spun out.
The yellow flag never flew, and Harvick wasted valuable gas getting up to speed while giving Keselowski enough breathing room to survive.
"I was as confused as you could have imagined," Harvick said. "I should have just done what I wanted to do, that would have been easier."
Keselowski thought Harvick may have been toying with him. When it turned out he wasn't, it let Keselowski take a leisurely route to the finish.
"Essentially it opened the box up for me to be more aggressive saving fuel," Keselowski said. "I don't know if we would have ran out or not, it's hard to tell."
Not that it mattered in the end as Keselowski put together his best performance since winning at Gateway last fall to beat a field stacked with fellow Sprint Cup regulars in town to run in Saturday night's inaugural Cup race at the track.
The 27-year-old dominated NASCAR's second-tier series a year ago, winning six times while running away with the championship. Things haven't been quite so smooth this season. His previous best finish this year was second at Texas in April, but has had several close calls.
He thought he'd win at Las Vegas only to cut a tire on the final lap. He was in front with a handful of laps left last week at Daytona only to see his Penske Racing Dodge fade to 17th.
"This year has been a series of what-ifs and today was actually not one of those days," he said.
Joey Logano, who was looking for his fourth straight win at Kentucky, ran out of gas on the last lap and finished 10th.
Sadler took over the Nationwide points lead after Reed Sorenson ran into trouble on pit road and finished 17th.
Busch, who won the Trucks race on Thursday night after starting on the back row, nearly did it again. He wrecked during qualifying and was forced to go to a backup car. He had little trouble working his way into the top 10 but couldn't quite find the speed to chase down Harvick and Keselowski, who combined to lead all but 12 of the 200 laps.
"I screwed up qualifying today and fenced (the car)," Busch said. "The guys did a great job of putting (the backup car) together and getting it ready just in time ... all in all, we gave it the best we had."
Logano, who won a week ago at Daytona, entered the night 3 for 3 in Nationwide races in Kentucky, but never threatened to make it four straight. He qualified fourth yet couldn't keep up with the leaders before slipping to 10th when his No. 20 Toyota ran empty.
"Our cars aren't fast enough," Logano said. "It seemed like me and Kyle were fourth- and fifth-place cars pretty much. I don't think we were going to try and make something happen, but it was just try to make it on fuel. I tried saving the best I can, but I just didn't quite make it."
Sorenson saw his points lead slip away thanks to a pit road gaffe when a jack got stuck under his car. Sadler was only too happy to take advantage.