In an instant, Brad Keselowski was a lap down.
Moments after the start of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, before the lead drivers had completed the first two corners, Kyle Busch’s Toyota washed up the track into Keselowski’s Ford and cut a tire on the Team Penske machine.
The resulting unscheduled pit stop left Keselowski a lap down, but he and the team kept their heads on straight. Keselowski got the lap back under the second caution as the highest-scored lapped car, and by the end of the second stage, he was 14th.
Throughout the rest of the race, Keselowski gained ground. On Lap 334, he took the checkered flag in fifth place to hold fourth in the series standings and build a 19-point edge over Denny Hamlin in fifth.
Next Sunday at Phoenix, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs will be cut from eight drivers to four, and Keselowski already has a leg up on the final available spot in the Championship 4 round.
“Something happened on Lap 1, and basically we started the race last and a lap-and-a-half down,” Keselowski said. “That cost us a bunch of stage points, but we rallied with a solid effort to get back to fifth. I’m happy for that.”
Happy, but not overly confident with the 19-point margin.
“We’ll take it,” Keselowski said. “I still want more. I hate to give up those stage points. Nineteen points isn’t terrible for a cushion.
“We’ll need to go and have a solid race at Phoenix next week and hope none of the other guys win. It’s doable, but it’s going to be a nail-biter next week for sure.”