Super-cool race team.
“We probably weren’t the best today with respect to being the fastest car,” said Brad Keselowski, who held the lead after multiple late-race restarts and a red flag situation to win Sunday’s crash-filled South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “But my team was the best today with respect to executing on pit stops, putting us in a position to control the race and then getting through the chaos.”
The victory in Round 1 of the NASCAR playoffs was the third consecutive for Keselowski, as well as his third Cup Series win in 11 starts in Las Vegas. It was a cherry-on-top 500th victory in all auto racing disciplines for Team Penske, the powerhouse organization for which he drives.
“I don’t know if we’re necessarily faster than we have been the rest of the season as much as I would say we’re finding ourselves taking advantages of opportunities at a much higher level,” said the 2012 Cup Series champion who sported a big red 500 patch on his cap during the postrace news conference.
It was the 27th victory in 332 starts for the 34-year-old Michigan native, who led eight times for 75 laps, including the last 22 of 267. His margin of victory over second-place Kyle Larson was 1.3 seconds.
Martin Truex Jr. and Keselowski’s teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five on a sweltering 100-degree day that saw several playoff drivers eliminated in crashes, including championship co-favorite Kevin Harvick. Las Vegas native Kyle Busch, the points co-leader with Harvick entering the race, spun through the infield grass with 35 laps to go and finished seventh.
Although the first seven across the line were playoff drivers, only one of the other nine eligible for the championship was listed among the first 18 finishers, pointing to the fickle nature of NASCAR’s second season and the slickness of the LVMS oval.
“Brad clearly found the horseshoe — three races he’s won in a row when he clearly has not had the best car,” said a miffed Truex Jr., who along with Harvick and Busch form NASCAR”s “Big 3” of drivers who dominated the regular season, winning 17 of 26 races.
The 2017 series champion is right about that, Keselowski said.
“He’s spot on. We have not been the best car over the past three weeks,” added the winner of the Southern 500 and Brickyard 400, two of NASCAR’s marquee events, in back-to-back races heading into Las Vegas. “This week we were probably a top 3 or 4 car; the 78 (Truex Jr.) was clearly the best car.
“We kind of stole it today. Same scenario the last two weeks.”
With Busch and Harvick having issues, Truex Jr. assumed the championship lead by two points over the Las Vegas native. Keselowski charged past Harvick for third heading into the next playoff race at Richmond Raceway, and the victory punched his ticket to the second round of playoffs leading into the winner-take-all championship battle among four drivers at Homestead, Florida, on Nov. 18.