Brad Keselowski broke a 33-race drought with a victory in the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Keselowski passed Las Vegas native Kyle Busch with five laps left to win for the first time since the fifth race of the 2015 season at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion beat Team Penske stablemate Joey Logano to the finish line by .675 seconds, as Busch lost ground over the closing laps.
Rain delayed the start of the race, and high winds and a late-race dust storm made visibility a challenge, but the unusual conditions left Keselowski undeterred. Nor did a pit road speeding penalty under caution on Lap 180 prove catastrophic, thanks to a series of astute pit calls by crew chief Paul Wolfe.
Busch may have gained a sizable lead due to a better restart and the advantages of clean air, but Keselowski had the faster car and began reeling Busch in with just a handful of laps remaining at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“This is really, really great,” said Keselowski, who lauded the lower-downforce aerodynamic package in place for the 2016 season. “It seemed like there were plenty of challenges, whether it was pit road or the weather or cautions. They threw everything they had at us today but this Miller Lite Ford team was too strong, and we were able to fight them off and get to Victory Lane.”
“He (Busch) had a really good short-run car, but it fell off on the long run,” Keselowski said. “That’s part of this new package. Some are good on short runs and some are good on long runs, and we had a really good long-run car today.”
Six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson beat Busch to the finish line by .016 seconds to secure third place. Austin Dillon ran fifth, and rookie Ryan Blaney came home sixth, posting a career-best finish on an open-motor race track.
The victory was Keselowski’s second at Las Vegas and the 18th of his career, but it wouldn’t have been possible if Wolfe hadn’t elected to keep the No. 2 Ford on the track on Lap 217 when all but Keselowski, Logano and Dillon pitted for tires and fuel under the fifth caution of the race. It took 38 laps, however, for the benefits of the strategy to become apparent — thanks to Busch’s remarkable restart on Lap 224. From the sixth position, Busch powered his No. 18 Toyota to the outside of Johnson’s Chevrolet, picked up huge momentum off the second corner, dived to the inside and shot past both Logano and Keselowski entering Turn 3.
One lap later, a multi-car wreck in Turn 1 ended strong runs by Matt Kenseth and rookie Chase Elliott, but the seven laps run under the resulting sixth and final caution enabled Keselowski, Logano and Dillon to stretch their fuel supplies to the end of the race. Busch streaked away on the Lap 233 restart but developed a pronounced vibration in the right front of this car, and the chase group of Keselowski, Logano and Johnson closed in. Keselowski passed Logano for the second spot on Lap 259 of 267 and streaked past Busch three laps later.
“Brad’s a confident guy, I don’t know if you guys met him before,” Logano joked after finishing second to his teammate. “It’s hard for him to lose confidence.
“I tried to hold him off as long as I could, but he showed how fast he was getting by me and Kyle and checking out,” Logano said after the 1-2 finish. “Congratulations to Team Penske. It’s something to be very proud of for our team.
Team Penske has endured driver differences within its diverse open-wheel lineups. On the NASCAR side, the chemistry hasn’t always been ideal either. But the latest duo of Keselowski and Joey Logano enjoys a great relationship on and off the track. The 1-2 finish for Penske Racing was just the third in team history, team owner Roger Penske should also be pleased.
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