KEVIN HARVICK'S nickname is "The Closer" for his ability to seize leads near the end of races and win. Brad Keselowski could be "Closer II" (or maybe "Kloser II") following his victory Sunday in California.
The California race report will read Keselowski led only the final lap. Actually, he paced only a little more than half the final lap, but all anyone cares about is which driver takes the checkered flag. A win is a win.
Until Keselowski surged to the front, it appeared the winner would be either Kurt Busch or Kevin Harvick. Busch led the most laps (65), while Harvick paced 34 laps. Busch and Harvick each took two tires on their final pit stop, while Keselowski's crew chief Paul Wolfe gambled by putting four new tires on the No. 2 Ford. The four tires gave Keselowski's car more grip.
Keselowski said Wolfe told him the tires decision "could go really good or really bad."
"I was kind of mad, because I felt like I had a big run and felt like I could get up to maybe second or third [without four tires], and I really hadn't kind of reset," Keselowski said. "Paul said it to me probably a lap later, 'No, this is actually really good to get you back up and maybe win the race.' And I was like, 'Oh yeah, yeah.' But he kept me calm.
"You don't know how these things are going to work out. Sometimes you can restart fifth or sixth with four tires and get caught up behind someone who doesn't have tires and end up 10th. It's picking the right lane and hoping it comes together and for us it did at the end."
Keselowski, 31, has been racing long enough to know such late-race strategy won't always work.
"When you win, you temper that with the knowledge you're going to lose one like this," the Michigan native said. "You're going have a dominant car one day and there's going to come a sequence of fluke events that [will] cost you a win and you look around and go, 'How did I lose?' The only thing you can do is just be really happy when you win to kind of offset that. That's how racing goes."
Sunday's race is at Martinsville's paper clip-shaped short oval, where Keselowski has only one top-five finish in 10 starts.
"The Sprint Cup Series and NASCAR in general compete on four different genres of tracks," Keselowski said. "You have superspeedways, short tracks, mile-and-a-halves and road courses, and each one is a different challenge.
"It would be like if you were an NFL player and you said, 'Peyton Manning, you're a good quarterback. Why don't you line up at tight end this play?' And then the next one, 'Why don't you line up as halfback?' Because the skill set for each one of those different types of tracks is so much different, and I think that's what makes our sport very unique from others is that kind of universal skill set that it requires to be an elite driver."
Harvick was second at Fontana, extending his remarkable streak to eight consecutive one-two finishes over two seasons. Richard Petty holds the record with 11 top-twos in a row in 1975.
In Busch's two races since his suspension was lifted by NASCAR over domestic violence allegations, he has finished fifth and third. He was the fastest qualifier at California.
Martin Truex Jr. continues his impressive early-season run. Truex is third in Sprint Cup points with five top-10 finishes, tying his best start in 2012. Last year, after five races, the Mayetta, N.J., native was 30th in points.
The bad news for Truex is, Martinsville is not one of his favorite tracks. In 18 career starts, his best finishes are two fifths.
"I have had a hard time finding consistency," Truex said. "Bottom line: Martinsville just spins me out. I am hoping what we do at Martinsville follows the same pattern of what we've been able to accomplish in the first five races this season."
Truex had a mild feud with Tony Stewart after the California race. Midrace contact between the two irritated Stewart. Truex saw the incident differently.
"[Stewart] ran into the back of me and was mad at me for it," Truex said.
Cup drivers in Trenton
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano will serve as team captains for the third Pocono-Dover softball game April 21 at the Trenton Thunder's ballpark.
Earnhardt is scheduled to captain Team Pocono, while Logano will lead Team Dover. The rosters consist of area media members and other special guests (read, probably ringers). The softball series is tied at one win apiece.
Access to the 4:30 p.m. softball game is free with a ticket to that night's Thunder-New Hampshire Fisher Cats Eastern League baseball game. For tickets call 609-394-3300 or visit TrentonThunder.com.
Dover International Speedway hosts a Sprint Cup race May 31. The series moves to Pocono June 7.
A fond tip of the ol' restrictor plate to Chuck Bausman as he retires as Daily News executive sports editor. Despite insisting he has never "watched a minute" of an auto race, a true "flaw" in his character, Chuck has always been supportive of the Daily News' coverage of auto racing.
Look for Chuck on area golf courses. He'll be the guy hitting out of the rough or sand traps.
This week's race
Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville, Va.
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Fox Sports 1/WNPV (1440-AM)
Course: .526-mile oval
Distance: 500 laps/263 miles
Forecast: mostly sunny, mid-50s
Last year's winner: Kurt Busch
Last year's pole winner: Kyle Busch, 99.674 mph
Track qualifying record: Jamie McMurray, 99.905 mph (October 2014)
Track facts: J.D. Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, is undergoing treatment for symptoms impacting brain functions. Gibbs, 46, expects to continue many of his daily responsibilities at JGR. He is a former William & Mary football player and the oldest son of former NFL coach Joe Gibbs ... Kurt Busch won last year's spring Martinsville race after starting 22nd. Jimmie Johnson led the most laps (296), but finished second ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the fall race at Martinsville ... Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have the most wins among active drivers at the track, eight each ... Virginia native Denny Hamlin is a four-time winner ... Ryan Newman's three consecutive top-five finishes have moved him into sixth place in the standings.
1. Kevin Harvick 225
2. Joey Logano 197
3. Martin Truex Jr. 192
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 164
5. Brad Keselowski 163
6. Ryan Newman 162
7. Jimmie Johnson 159
8. Kasey Kahne 159
9. Paul Menard 152
10. Aric Almirola 138
11. AJ Allmendinger 137
12. Casey Mears 132
13. Matt Kenseth 127
14. Denny Hamlin 125
15. David Ragan 124
16. Jamie McMurray 120
17. Carl Edwards 120
18. Kyle Larson 116
19. Austin Dillon 116
20. Clint Bowyer 115
Up next: Duck Commander 500, April 11, Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas, 7:30 p.m.; TV: Fox; last year's winner: Joey Logano.