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NASCAR: Brad Keselowski wins Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas

Brad Keselowski celebrates after winning Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Brad Keselowski celebrates after winning Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Getty Images

It took nearly a year, but Brad Keselowski found his way back to Victory Lane.

Keselowski ended a 50-week drought Sunday, winning NASCAR’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 34 races,” said Keselowski, who tracked down Kyle Busch with five laps remaining. “We’ve led a lot of races in that time span; probably deserved to win a few more races than that. That’s just kind of how racing goes sometimes.”

It was a 1-2 finish for Team Penske’s Fords, with Joey Logano finishing .675th of a second behind Keselowski. Chevy-driving Jimmie Johnson, last week’s winner at Atlanta, fell short in his bid to take over sole possession of the seventh spot on NASCAR’s career victory list ahead of Dale Earnhardt and was third.

Keselowski’s most recent victory came in March 2015 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., the fifth race of the season. That allowed him to comfortably qualify for the Chase, but that would be his only victory of the year. He spent much of the rest of the season in the shadow of Logano, who won five races and was in control of the Chase for much of the postseason.

But that never wore on Keselowski, the 2012 Cup champion, according to Logano.

“Brad’s a confident guy,” said Logano. “It’s hard for him to lose confidence. (Penske) won a lot of races last year. I don’t think it really took a toll on him. He was up there racing with us the whole time. This is obviously a big weight off his shoulders, to be able to get that win. Last year wasn’t because they didn’t have fast cars or weren’t working well together. They were doing everything right.  It’s just circumstances have to go perfectly a lot of times to win these things.”

The genesis of Sunday’s victory came when Keselowski went to pit road on Lap 199. Crew chief Paul Wolfe elected to change four tires instead of two, meaning Keselowski would likely be stronger toward the end of the 267-lap race.

“The way I look at it, if you’re going to do two tires, you’ve got to get that clean air,” said Wolfe. “Otherwise we’ll take four all day. It gives you opportunities at the end to do some different strategies to get that track position back.”

Others, including Busch, went in for two tires on Lap 217. Busch took the lead on a restart on Lap 224, going high, then low, past five other cars (including Keselowski and Logano).

It was an impressive move.

“Where the hell did he come from?” Logano asked on his radio.

Busch, last season’s Cup champion, pulled away to a 6.5-second lead, but soon was reporting a vibration in the right front of his Toyota. Keselowski – who had to go to the rear of the field earlier in the race after speeding on pit road –gradually reeled him in.

“It’s a great feeling,” Keselowski said of knowing he had Busch in his sights. “One of the best feelings. It’s a feeling I live for, a feeling I dream about quite often, being the fastest guy and having opportunity. We had the opportunity to win the race.”

Keselowski drew up behind Busch, then measured the leader while watching him for a lap,

“When I saw his car, the way it was sliding and taking a set, the line he was running, I knew after that first lap that we could win the race,” Keselowski said. “After the second lap, I gained a big chunk on him, I thought, ‘He’s either saving fuel and tire or I’m going to pass him immediately.’ Of course, that’s when we passed him in two or three laps. One of the best feelings in the world, I can tell you that.”

Now, just as Keselowski’s team also could last season after winning at Fontana, the focus for the rest of the regular season can be on preparing for the Chase.

“It’s huge,” said Wolfe. “Last year we were able to get the win in Fontana, and now here we are even earlier than that. It just allows us the opportunity to continue to maybe try new things and develop our cars to be as strong as we can when the Chase starts.

“Whether it’s some different things we do on race day … obviously the strategy piece with not having to worry about points anymore, we may try some different things there. We might try different setups or explore a little bit, that if you didn’t have the win, you would have to focus a little more on being consistent, of having those good finishes to make sure you take care of the points side of it.”

 

Kobalt 400

At Las Vegas Motor Speedway

Lap length: 1.5 miles

(Start position in parentheses)

1. (4) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 267 laps, 44 points

2. (2) Joey Logano, Ford, 267, 40

3. (11) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 267, 40

4. (23) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 267, 38

5. (5) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 267, 37

6. (14) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 267, 35

7. (6) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 267, 35

8. (20) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 267, 33

9. (1) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 267, 33

10. (8) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 267, 31

11. (10) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 267, 30

12. (16) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 267, 29

13. (21) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 267, 28

14. (12) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 267, 27

15. (15) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 267, 26

16. (29) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 267, 25

17. (28) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 267, 24

18. (24) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 267, 23

19. (9) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 267, 23

20. (26) Greg Biffle, Ford, 267, 21

21. (18) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 267, 20

22. (35) Clint Bowyer, Chevrolet, 267, 19

23. (22) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 267, 18

24. (7) Aric Almirola, Ford, 266, 17

25. (33) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 266, 17

26. (25) Chris Buescher, Ford, 266, 15

27. (32) Brian Scott, Ford, 266, 14

28. (27) Landon Cassill, Ford, 266, 13

29. (30) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 266, 12

30. (37) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 265, 11

31. (34) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 263, 10

32. (31) David Ragan, Toyota, 262, 9

33. (38) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Ford, 262, 8

34. (17) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 262, 7

35. (39) Josh Wise, Chevrolet, 259, 6

36. (19) Brian Vickers, Chevrolet, 257, 5

37. (3) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, wreck, 224, 5

38. (13) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, wreck, 224, 3

39. (36) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, vibration, 115, 2

Race Statistics

Average Speed of Race Winner: 138.170 mph. Time of Race: 2 hours, 53 minutes, 55 seconds. Margin of Victory: 0.675 seconds. Caution Flags: 6 for 36 laps. Lead Changes: 20 among 10 drivers. Lap Leaders: Ku.Busch 1-31; J.Logano 32; R.Smith 33; D.Hamlin 34-43; J.Logano 44-82; K.Harvick 83; A.Dillon 84-85; B.Keselowski 86-99; J.Logano 100; J.Johnson 101-131; J.Logano 132; J.Johnson 133-148; J.Logano 149-150; B.Keselowski 151-154; J.Johnson 155-176; J.Logano 177-200; M.Kenseth 201-209; J.Johnson 210-216; J.Logano 217-223; Ky.Busch 224-261; B.Keselowski 262-267. Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): J.Johnson, 4 times for 76 laps; J.Logano, 7 times for 75 laps; Ky.Busch, 1 time for 38 laps; Ku.Busch, 1 time for 31 laps; B.Keselowski, 3 times for 24 laps; D.Hamlin, 1 time for 10 laps; M.Kenseth, 1 time for 9 laps; A.Dillon, 1 time for 2 laps; K.Harvick, 1 time for 1 lap; R.Smith, 1 time for 1 lap. Wins: D.Hamlin, 1; J.Johnson, 1; B.Keselowski, 1. Top 16 in Points: 1. Ky.Busch, 116; 2. J.Johnson, 110; 3. K.Harvick, 109; 4. J.Logano, 104; 5. Ku.Busch, 102; 6. B.Keselowski, 98; 7. C.Edwards, 96; 8. D.Hamlin, 93; 9. M.Truex Jr., 90; 10. A.Dillon, 90; 11. R.Stenhouse Jr., 79; 12. D.Earnhardt Jr., 78; 13. K.Kahne, 77; 14. R.Blaney, 73; 15. A.Almirola, 72; 16. J.McMurray, 69.

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