Brad Keselowski blasted his way past Kyle Busch in the final five laps of the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon to claim his 18th victory in 236 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. It's his first win since March 22, 2015, at Auto Club Speedway, and his second in three years at Vegas.
Full race results and updated Sprint Cup Championship standings
"This is really, really great," said Keselowski as he celebrated in victory lane with the Penske team. "It seemed like there were plenty of challenges, whether it was pit road or the weather or cautions. They threw everything they had at us today but this Miller Lite Ford team was too strong and we were able to fight them off."
Keselowski had been running in the top six for much of the race, but his hopes of winning appeared to take a serious blow on lap 180 when he was handed a pit lane speeding penalty which had sent him all the way to the back. Keselowski managed to climb his way back through the field, and reclaimed second place after staying off pit lane when the leaders pitted on lap 218 under caution for a spin by Regan Smith.
The following restart on lap 224 saw Joe Gibbs Racing's Kyle Busch pull off a stunning move to go from sixth place to first.
"It was just momentum, I got rolling on the restart better than those in the front of me," said Busch, who had started from 23rd place on the grid after a disappointing qualifying on Friday evening. "I got a run down the back stretch and then just dove it off into turn three and when you do that, you have a chance of getting into those other guys, or them getting into you or pinching you really tight and spinning out, but I thought I had enough momentum that we squeaked through there before we got to the load part of the corner in turn three and it all worked out."
He was lucky to have managed to clear out just before a multi-car wreck claimed Busch's team mates Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards along with Hendrick Motorsports' Chase Elliott. Busch pulled out a big lead at the restart, but the #18 picked up a vibration in the closing laps which allowed Keselowski to reel him in and claim the lead in time for the chequered flag.
"I had a [front] vibration when they put the rights on and then it just kept getting worse and worse and there at the end I didn't know if the tyre was coming apart or what the deal was," explained a disappointed Busch. "I was trying to give it everything I had and it just would not turn. It got so tight, that was the tightest we were all day. Ran my track bar up two inches and it didn't do anything. Definitely something wrong."
"He had a really good short run car but it fell off on the long run," noted Keselowski, who is the first driver to successfully overcome a drive-thru penalty to win a race since 2013. "That is part of this new package, some are good on short run and some are good on long run and we had a really good long run car today."
Keselowski's biggest problem after the race was simply holding on to the winner's flag, amid strong winds gusting up to 40mph that whipped up brief sandstorms off the Nevada desert during the race and littered the track with debris which caused two of the six cautions in the three-hour running time. The event itself had got off to a slightly delayed start because of a light shower minutes before the scheduled green flag time and there were further brief bursts of rain during the race itself, but none heavy or extended enough that they necessitated a red flag.
Keselowski's Penske team mate Joey Logano and Hendrick's Jimmie Johnson also managed to pass the ailing Busch in the final lunge to the line. Logano and Johnson had vied for the lead for much of the middle section of the race, leading 75 and 76 laps respectively compared to 38 for Busch and just 24 for Keselowski.
"Brad was able to beat me in the bottom of three and four and maintaining that turn and being able to drive up underneath guys," Logano explained. "We had a good car. We led a lot of laps. Brad was just really good on the long run. I tried to hold him off as long as I could but he showed how fast he was getting by me and Kyle and checking out. Congratulations to Team Penske. It is something to be very proud of for our team."
"Those top three or four cars were pretty equal," said Johnson. "It was just real hard to get there and get inside of somebody. I was impressed the #2 was able to sit behind the #22 that long and finally get by and not wear his stuff out in the process. But, decent day for us all-in-all."
Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon was another driver to have to overcome a pit lane speeding penalty and went on to finish in fifth place ahead of Wood Brothers Racing's Ryan Blaney. Stewart Haas Racing's Kevin Harvick overcame a weekend bout of 'flu to finish in seventh ahead of Hendrick's Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"We killed ourselves today [with the penalty]," said Dillon. "To comeback to a fifth, I'm blessed and the good Lord was looking out for us. The cautions fell right. We really have to pick it up as a group, me included, on pit road. It was disappointing because we had such a fast race car."
"We were good all day," Blaney said for his own part. "We were able to drive up through the field early and we made the car better throughout the day. It's a great day. It's a good way to get our season back on track after Atlanta. We had a good run and it always makes you feel good going into next week."
Pole sitter Kurt Busch led for the first 31 laps until a pit lane speeding penalty had consigned him to the back; unlike Keselowski he was unable to overcome the set-back. However he still claimed a top ten finish despite being involved in the lap 224 accident, his initial light contact with Edwards one of the factors that sparked the multi-car wreck which wrote off Kenseth and Elliott.
"We fought hard," said Busch. "Driver made a couple of mistakes on a restart and speeding on pit road. We just had to battle, battle, battle and just never got into a good rhythm. We just felt like we were battling from behind.”
"I still don't know exactly what happened," said Edwards of his incident with Busch, who finished in 18th position. "They said Kurt drove in four-wide and lost it? I don't know what happened. I got hit and it would have been all right I think if I would have stayed out instead of come in and I thought the car was more damaged so I came and had to start in the back. Overall I thought we recovered really well."
"I have no idea, honestly," shrugged Kenseth when asked what had happened. "I went into turn one and I wasn't really hardly turning yet and just spun out before I had any idea what happened. I don't know, after that I was just trying to save our DeWalt Toyota and got ran into from behind."
"Matt spun out and I just did a bad job missing him, just locked up the brakes and ran right into the back of him," was Elliott's view. "Just disappointed, what a fast race car, I appreciate everybody working hard. I feel like we made a lot of gains this weekend. Just a terrible job on my behalf. That is pitiful. We have run three races and finished one. Just a bad job on my end. I ought to know better to miss a wreck like that."
In the championship points standings, Kyle Busch continues to lead, now with seven points in hand over Johnson and Harvick. All three manufacturers have now taken a win apiece in the first three races of 2016; while that gives Johnson, Keselowski and Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin a significant advantage in terms of making the Chase it's still far too early in the season to talk about anyone being definitely locked in, even with one trip each to victory lane.
Full race results and updated Sprint Cup Championship standings
Kyle Busch recorded a dominant victory in the Boyd Gaming 300 on Saturday afternoon, leading all but one of the 200 laps on his way to a first series win at his home track in Las Vegas. 78th victory in 313 Xfinity outings and his second of 2016, coming just a week after his win at Atlanta. It was overall an impressive day for Joe Gibbs Racing which started the day with a 1-2-3 lockout on the grid led by Busch, and closed out the race with a similar sweep although by the chequered flag Daniel Suarez had switched places to finish ahead of his JGR team mate Erik Jones. Jones had been forced to battle back into the top three despite going two laps down after a pit lane speeding infraction on lap 54 was compounded by speeding during the drive-thru which led to a second, now stop-go penalty. There were three cautions during the race beginning with a minor incident on the frontstretch on lap 2 involving Elliott Sadler, Corey LaJoie and Jeb Burton; the second for debris on lap 73; and finally a hard hit for Cody Ware in turn 2 on lap 137 which was made worse when the #25 was subsequently hit on the rebound by Darrell Wallace Jr, followed by Justin Marks hitting the wall and then into Wallace on the backstretch resulting in a 19 minute red flag for the clean-up. In the championship standings Suarez now leads by three points from Sadler, with Ty Dillon and Brandon Jones tied for third place four points further back.
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