Brad Keselowski hit the jackpot and took home the checkered flag Sunday in one of the wackiest races in NASCAR history. Las Vegas is known for being a place full of surprises and unknowns, and everyone in the racing world saw it come to fruition on Sunday.
It has become a commonplace that if NASCAR is in town, mother nature is bound to be there as well. The forecast for Sunday was abysmal from the start, with a certainty of high winds and chance of rain. The weather held off until driver introductions, when the dark clouds began to blow in, carrying spotty rain along with it. Gates were flying over, flags were flying away, and at some points it almost seemed unsafe to race.
But the cars got on track and after a slight delay, the green flag waved on the field. Kurt Busch led the field across the line, and was able to hold onto the lead for the first stint of the race. The No. 41 Monster Energy car seemed to be the class of the field, until a pit road speeding penalty sent Busch to the back of the field, all but ruining his chances at a victory.
Keselowski, Joey Logano, and Jimmie Johnson then emerged as the three strongest cars in the field. They swapped the lead back and forth throughout a majority of the middle of the race until the caution came out for debris on Lap 179. Keselowski recieved a pit road speeding penalty, and it seemed as if his chances at victory were also diminished.
The field went green again for a short twenty-lap run, until a wreck involving Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger brought the caution out again. Matt Kenseth took two tires and won the race off pit road, putting the No. 20 in position to capitalize on potential weather that was moving back into the area. The winds picked back up again, and fans in the stands could only watch as a dust storm worked its way from local Nellis Air Force Base to the track. Dust was flying, rain was falling, wind was hallowing, but NASCAR went ahead and restarted the race.
The field endured another short caution flag shortly after for a wreck involving Regan Smith and Kyle Larson, which set the field up for another crazy restart in the dust. Kyle Busch got shot out of a cannon, going three-wide on the outside and inside, moving his way from sixth to first before they even completed a lap.
Shortly after though, on Lap 226, a big crash ensued. Kenseth got loose and spun out going into Turn 1, and had it almost saved until Chase Elliott, with nowhere to go, plowed into the back of the No.20. Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch also spun out behind them, but were able to get away with minimal damage.
“I went into turn 1 and I wasn’t really hardly turning yet, and just spun out before I had any idea what happened,” said Kenseth”. I don’t know, after that I was just trying to save our DeWalt Toyota, and got ran into from behind.”
After a short cleanup period, the field got lined up double-file for the restart with 35 laps to go. Kyle Busch was able to once again shoot out to the race lead, and it seemed as if he may have had a strong enough car, despite only having two fresh tires, to hold off the field.
While all this had been going on, Keselowski had rebounded from his earlier speeding penalty. With around eight laps to go, the No. 2 Miller Lite Fusion moved its way into second place, and it was evident that he had the strongest car. Kyle Busch began to lose the handling on his No. 18 machine, and with five laps to go, Keselowski surged ahead.
The checkered flag waved, and Keselowski drove his No. 2 Ford Fusion across the finish line in first.
“Yeah guys, yes! Thank you everybody, thank you so much,” exclaimed Keselowski as he made his way around on the cool down lap.
The victory is Keselowski’s second win in the last three races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and his fourth top-10 finish in eight races at the track.
“Thrilled to be back in Victory Lane, thrilled to be locked into the Chase so early in the season, which is a tremendous feeling for our team,” said Keselowski.
His teammate, Logano, brought home a solid second place finish on Sunday, giving his team owner, Roger Penske, a one-two finish.
“I think the package is awesome. I also think what we did at Team Penske, anytime you have one in Victory Lane, two of them sitting up here, that means it’s a good day,” said Logano, “I’m proud off all of Team Penske for what we’ve done over the offseason.”
The top finishing rookie of the race was 22-year old Ryan Blaney. The Wood Brothers Racing driver crossed the finish line in sixth place, his best finish of the young 2016 season.
“Overall a good day,” said Blaney. “A nice day to have after our disappointment last week in Atlanta. That was tough for us. Hopefully this is a good step in the right direction. But our team did a great job.”
Johnson, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Dale Jr., Kurt Busch, and Kasey Kahne rounded out the rest of the top-10 finishers on Sunday.
Next week NASCAR continues its west coast stretch by heading out to Phoenix International Raceway. Kevin Harvick is the March defending race winner at the track, and heads into next week as the all but odds-on favorite.