The 2008 champion won his 28th pole with a lap time of 1:29.607, just moments after the 28-year-old Rosberg had clocked the fastest time. Third-place Vettel edged out his teammate Mark Webber, who is taking the track this weekend for the first time since announcing he was leaving the sport at the end of the year.
As Hamilton crossed the line, his team said over the radio “Storming job, Lewis, storming job” and fans in stands draped with a Hamilton banner were on their feet cheering.
The 28-year-old Brit has won the race once – in 2008.
RAINY WINNER: Brad Keselowski hoped to get back on the track after a rain delay in Friday’s Nationwide Series race at Kentucky Speedway. It didn’t happen, and Keselowski was declared the winner in the rain-shortened event.
Showers halted the race at lap 170 in the scheduled 200-lap, 300-mile event, but drivers were expecting it to resume before another pocket of rain forced officials to call it off.
“You know, I didn’t want it to end this way but we had a great car and we were able to drive to the front,” Keselowski said.
Elliott Sadler finished second.
Series points leader Regan Smith saw his 28-point advantage over Justin Allgaier coming in whacked to an eight-point edge over Sam Hornish Jr. after an engine problem that forced him behind the wall and left him 30th, 17 laps down.
The night mostly belonged to Busch and eventually Keselowski, who has a chance to add another trophy if he can win Saturday night’s 400-mile Cup race. If his first two races and Friday night in particular are any indication, he’s certainly the driver to beat.
Starting 19th, Keselowski quickly moved the No. 22 Ford into contention to make it a battle between him and Busch on a tripleheader weekend for both. Running in the top five on lap 150, Keselowski eventually got by Sadler for the lead before the sky opened up.
“We didn’t qualify like we wanted to but (crew chief) Jeremy Bullins and this team did a great job.
“It was just a great car tonight. This is the type of car you get once a year if you are lucky. Driving this car I feel like Jimmie Johnson, this is a rocket.”
Busch led three times for a race-high 74 laps, mostly before the halfway point. The race featured 12 lead changes among seven drivers.
One of the team was defending race winner Austin Dillon, whose quest was keeping the family name in victory lane for the third straight time at Kentucky. The grandson of NASCAR team owner Richard Childress dominated here a year ago, leading 192 laps while averaging a race-record 151.643 in a Chevy sporting RCR’s iconic No. 3 made famous by seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt.
Dillon led 65 last September to complete a season sweep here. If that wasn’t enough motivation for him to stay hot <0x2014>- not to mention, cutting into his 45-point deficit to first-place Smith <0x2014> there was the opportunity to one-up his brother, Ty, who won Thursday night’s Truck race.
Dillon’s bid started well as he won the pole with a speed of 175.758 mph and he led the first 18 laps before yielding to Busch and eventually finishing sixth. As for the two Cup heavyweights, they seemed intent on a strong follow-up to their 2-3 finish in the Truck race.
Sadler and Crafton had their turns up front as well, but Keselowski carefully threaded his way back into the lead just before showers arrived, turning into a downpour soon after the race was called.
“As a racer, you always want to see a restart to get the opportunity to win the race,” Sadler said. “But Brad and those guys definitely had a strong car. He got me loose when he was behind me and made a good pass.”