By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Brad Keselowski’s bid of scoring his first win of the season went flat after bringing out the 10th and final caution at the two-day Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, finishing 23rd after scoring both stage wins and led 67 of 500 laps.
Keselowski led four times in the race, notably putting his No. 2 Discount Tire Ford Fusion on top of the leaderboard during the closing laps of both stage one and two.
After multiple red flags slowed the race down, Keselowski held off Ryan Newman in a one-lap shootout and scored the stage win.
Stage two started off slow for the former series champion, running in 14th once mother nature arrived at “Thunder Valley.” After 204 laps, NASCAR postponed the race to Monday afternoon.
Once the race resumed, Keselowski made his moves fast and cracked the top-5 with 25 laps remaining in stage two. 15 laps later, Keselowski was running trailblazing laps on fresher tires and cut Kyle Larson’s lead each.
Keselowski got into the rear bumper of Larson’s No. 42 McDonald’s Chevrolet, he bumped him out of the way in Turn 3 and regained the lead, but it wasn’t over between the two.
Larson attempted the high groove, but backfired and lost second to Kyle Busch. Meanwhile, lapped cars weren’t giving any courtesy to the leaders and bunched up the battle. However, Keselowski was able to get by Trevor Bayne, Corey LaJoie and Reed Sorenson without negative implications and scored back-to-back stage wins, his third of the season.
During pit stops, Keselowski retained his lead for the start of stage three, but quickly lost the first-place to Denny Hamlin on the restart, using the high groove and cleared him at the exit of Turn 3. Keselowski then lost second to Jimmie Johnson.
Hamlin’s lead lasted four laps as he made an unscheduled stop, slowing up Johnson and gave Keselowski the opportunity to pass him in Turn 4 and led the next 27 laps.
As the race progressed, a handful of drivers took turns at the front including Keselowski on Lap 366. He lost the lead nine laps later as an aggressive Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, Jr. passed him and became the first African American driver to lead a Cup race since Wendell Scott at Jacksonville in December 1963.
From there, Keselowski’s day went south as he battled an ill-handling car and worn out tires. Then with 31 laps to go, his left front went down at the entry of Turn 2, and hit the outside retaining wall to bring out the final caution.
Adding insult to injury, NASCAR officials held Keselowski for one lap after passing the pace car under caution.
Kyle Busch went on to win his 45th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory. Keselowski ended the race five laps down in 23rd, his second straight race finishing outside the top-20.
Despite a disappointing day, Keselowski improved from seventh to fifth in the standings after his teammate Ryan Blaney was involved in a six-car crash in Sunday’s portion of the race and Martin Truex, Jr. finishing 30th.