The American flag flew down the frontstretch for the second week in a row as Brad Keselowski put another jewel in his crown Monday.
Keselowski and his Paul Wolfe led crew played pit stop strategy to perfection Monday and with 15 lap fresher tires he bumped and banged with Denny Hamlin over the last three laps after a late race restart grabbing the lead at the start of the final lap to win the rain-delayed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series Brickyard 400.
The win was the first in the Cup series for Team Penske in 25 tries and the first for Ford since 1999.
“I gotta give credit where credit is due,” Keselowski said. “My crew chief, Paul Wolfe, made a heck of a call to pit there late in that run and the yellow came out and we had new tires and started eighth and it was kind of like it gave me the ball. You know how that goes. I had to make a play.”
It was also the second consecutive win for Keselowski who won another of NASCAR’s “Crown Jewel” races winning after grabbing the lead late in the Southern 500 at Darlington last Sunday.
The final restart was set up after a late race crash between Jeffrey Earnhardt and Landon Cassill with 7 laps to go.
The lead belonged to Hamlin, who led 37 laps with Clint Bowyer who led the same number of laps in second.
But Hamlin and Bowyer had pitted under green on lap 127 with Bowyer following a lap later. Keselowski stayed out until lap 142 before pitting. Keselowski was third when the last caution flew and restarted behind Hamlin.
On the restart Bowyer spun his tires on the outside as Keselowski pushed Hamlin to the lead. Keselowski lurked behind Hamlin charging underneath Hamlin in turn 3 and completing the pass exiting turn 4 as the field came to the white flag.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Keselowski said. “We weren’t a dominant car by any means but Paul and everyone executed an incredible race. I just had to do my job and here I am in victory lane at the Brickyard.”
Erik Jones was able to get past Hamlin for second with Kevin Harvick fourth behind Hamlin with Bowyer holding on to finish fifth.
“I had the race pretty well in hand,” Hamlin said. “Landon Cassill wrecked for no apparent reason at the end and then we just got roughed up by the 2 (Brad Keselowski) there at the end – on new tires. Very unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes cautions don’t fall your way. We were able to survive the first few but allowed those guys to – with all those cautions and meaningless wrecks – to the guys on new tires to be right on us and that’s what happened.”
Kurt Busch was sixth, Jamie McMurray seventh and Kyle Busch who clinched the regular season title was eighth.
“It feels really good,” Busch said. “They give away a trophy and we were able to go out and get it.”
“It was ugly. It was not at all what we were hoping for or what we really wanted to see out of today and obviously had a lot of frustrations out there, but overall it’s pretty good to be in this spot with having those extra bonus points and having some new hardware to go home with us.”
Paul Menard and Ryan Newman rounded out the top 10.
In the playoff picture Alex Bowman was able to clinch the final spot despite a lap 47 crash that left him 33rd many laps down. Jimmie Johnson avoided trouble and is also in after quietly finishing 16th on the lead lap.
The only driver among the Big 3 who didn’t have a good race was Martin Truex Jr.
After being forced to start at the rear after his car failed pre-race inspection, on lap 40 Truex went to brake entering turn 1. The left front brake rotor exploded with enough force to buckle the hood.
Truex limped to pit road and then to the garage, done for the day.
“I thought I blew a tire initially going into (turn) one there,” Truex said. “I was like ‘oh this is going to hurt’, but the car kept turning luckily and I was able to keep it off the wall.”
The first race of the 2018 NASCAR Playoffs start in less than a week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with the South Point 400. Live coverage starts at 3:00 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports Network.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 128.629 mph.
Time of Race: 03 Hrs, 06 Mins, 35 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.904 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 10 for 39 laps.
Lead Changes: 14 among 9 drivers.
Lap Leaders: Kyle Busch 1-11; D. Hamlin 12-32; Kurt Busch 33-44; C. Bowyer 45-51; Kyle Busch 52-67; K. Harvick 68-89; C. Bowyer 90-96; M. Kenseth 97-101; W. Byron # 102-104; C. Bowyer 105-127; R. Blaney 128; Kurt Busch 129-135; B. Keselowski 136-142; D. Hamlin 143-158; B. Keselowski 159-160.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): C. Bowyer 3 times for 37 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 37 laps; Kyle Busch 2 times for 27 laps; K. Harvick 1 time for 22 laps; Kurt Busch 2 times for 19 laps; B. Keselowski 2 times for 9 laps; M. Kenseth 1 time for 5 laps; W. Byron # 1 time for 3 laps; R. Blaney 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 14,41,11,42,18,2,10,21,9,20
Stage #2 Top Ten: 6,9,20,22,41,19,2,24,31,48
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Field
1. Kyle Busch: 2,050 points
2. Kevin Harvick: 2,050 points
3. Martin Truex Jr.: 2,035 points
4. Brad Keselowski: 2,019 points
5. Clint Bowyer: 2,015 points
6. Joey Logano: 2014 points
7. Kurt Busch: 2,014 points
8. Chase Elliott: 2,008 points
9. Ryan Blaney: 2,007 points
10. Erik Jones: 2,005 points
11. Austin Dillon: 2,005 points
12. Kyle Larson: 2,005 points
13. Denny Hamlin: 2,003 points
14. Aric Almirola: 2,001 points
15. Jimmie Johnson: 2,000 points
16. Alex Bowman: 2,000 points