Hat Trick: Keselowski wins wild opening NASCAR Cup Playoff race in Vegas

In Las Vegas speak, entering Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Brad Keselowski had 64,000 to 1 odds that he would win a third consecutive race.

Jackpot.

Keselowski took the lead near the halfway point, won the second stage and held off his contenders over three late race restarts and an overtime finish after a red flag to win his third race in a row.

Oh, and that race happened to be the opening one for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series Playoffs.  Thus, the win guarantees him a spot in the Round of 12.

Keselowski was leading with five laps to go when David Ragan spun and Michal McDowell got into him entering turn 3; playoff contender Kurt Busch was swept up in the melee and was done for the day. The cleanup forced NASCAR to throw a red flag for just over 10-minutes.  On the green-white-checkered flag restart, Keselowski was able to pull away to win by 1.2 seconds.  Playoff drivers Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr.  who won the first stage and Joey Logano rounded out the top five.

In all, seven playoff contenders occupied the top seven finishing spots.

Four of those top five finishers were the only contenders to avoid trouble.

Kevin Harvick lost a tire and crashed on lap 146 taking out playoff driver and pole sitter Erik Jones. Harvick finished 29th, Jones 40th

Chase Elliott crashed out on lap 211 when Jamie McMurray lost a tire and spun, sweeping up Elliott. Kyle Busch spun off turn 4 and slid through the infield grass on lap 232. He avoided major damage and rebounded to finish 7.

Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate wasn’t as lucky. Denny Hamlin spun exiting turn 4 on lap 246 and also hit the infield grass; however, unlike Busch, his splitter dug in and destroyed the front end; ending his day.  Hamlin finished 32nd.

Just after a restart with 12 laps to go, Jimmie Johnson who restarted fifth scrapped the wall and had to pit for a flat tire; Alex Bowman and Clint Bowyer also suffered flat tires. Bowyer finished 23rd, Johnson 22nd and Bowman 19.

Austin Dillon who was forced to start in the back after unapproved adjustments was never near the front but avoided all the carnage and finished 11th.

In the top 10, Aric Almirola, who had hit the wall on several occasions, finished 6th, Kyle Busch 7th, with non-Playoff racers Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman and Paul Menard rounding out the top 10.

Truex leads the updated standings with Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Harvick and Logano rounding out the top five.

The win was Keselowski’s 27th career victory and the 500th overall for Team Penske.

The next race in the NASCAR Playoffs is Saturday night with the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond.  Coverage will be on NBCSN with the green flag falling just after 7:30 p.m.

Updated Playoff Points
1. Martin Truex Jr., 2,087
2. Kyle Busch, 2,085
3. Brad Keselowski, 2.069 points (clinched advancement)
4. Kevin Harvick, 2,060
5. Joey Logano, 2,056
6. Kurt Busch, 2,046
7. Ryan Blaney, 2,042
8. Kyle Larson, 2,041
9. Aric Almirola, 2,034
10. Austin Dillon, 2,031
11. Clint Bowyer, 2,029
12. Alex Bowman, 2,028
13. Jimmie Johnson, 2,022
14. Chase Elliott, 2,019
15. Erik Jones, 2,009
16. Denny Hamlin, 2,008
The top 12 drivers advance to the second round.

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