By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
It had been a long dry spell — 33 races to be exact — since Brad Keselowski had reached victory lane in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Sunday in the closing laps of the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Keselowski looked ready, willing and able to do anything it took to snap the streak.
Keselowski started the day from the fourth position, and for the majority of the day he drove smart. He didn’t push the issue, and he just hung around the top-five all race long.
He was daring when he had to be. On a sequence of green flag pit stops at lap 148, Keselowski made a breath-taking move at the pit entrance to take the lead from Jimmie Johnson.
In all, Keselowski led three times for 25 laps on the day, and even a pit road speeding penalty couldn’t keep Keselowski from winning. His crew chief, Paul Wolfe played perfect pit strategy of having his driver stay out on tires that had run just a few laps, while the majority of the field pitted at lap 227. This helped put Keselowski back in the running for the win.
On the final restart of the day at lap 233, Kyle Busch had an incredible start. Busch passed and temporarily pulled away from Keselowski and his teammate, Joey Logano. A few laps later however, Busch had obviously used up his stuff, and the Team Penske duo closed in. Keselowski spent several laps trying to work around Logano, and once he did it was only a matter of time before he caught and passed the No. 18 Toyota.
Keselowski would get around Busch on lap 261, and he wouldn’t look back. After the race, Keselowski talked about snapping his almost year-long losing streak.
“We’re glad to be back in Victory Lane. It’s hard to believe it’s been 34 races. We’ve led a lot of races in that time span, probably deserved to win a few more races than that. That’s just kind of how racing goes sometimes,” Keselowski explained. “But, yes, of course 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, one that we’re of course very thankful for.”
When asked about chasing down Busch in the closing laps, Keselowski said there’s nothing that compares to that in his book.
“It’s a great feeling. One of the best feelings. It’s a feeling I live for, a feeling I dream about quite often, being the fastest guy and having opportunity. We had the opportunity to win the race,” Keselowski said. “I knew when I was watching, as soon as I passed Joey, I focused in on the 18. I watched him for one lap. When I saw his car, the way it was sliding and taking a set, the line he was running, I knew after that first lap that we could win the race. After the second lap, I gained a big chunk on him, I thought, He’s either saving fuel and tire or I’m going to pass him immediately. Of course, that’s when we passed him in two or three laps. One of the best feelings in the world, I can tell you that.”
Keselowski by earning his 18th-career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, has now cemented his place in this year’s Chase. He and Paul Wolfe can now spend the rest of the season trying to rack up victories and build momentum for a championship push.
Image: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images