By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
CONCORD, N.C. –When the format for this year’s All-Star race was announced, no one could have predicted just how bizarre the race would play out. Brad Keselowski was second fastest in practice, but started in sixth after qualifying was rained out and the starting grid was set by owner’s points. Meanwhile teammate Joey Logano was fifth fastest and started eighth.
Keselowski started segment one in sixth and sat there for much of the segment. Keselowski slowly moved forward as others peeled off to make their mandatory two tire pit stop. Keselowski finally peeled off from the third position to pit with five laps remaining. As Keselowski entered pit road, the caution waved for a spin by Jamie McMurray in turn two. Keselowski finished segment one in the second position, behind Carl Edwards, after Matt Kenseth was penalized one lap for failing to pit under green before the end of the segment.
After the mandatory two tire pit stop between segments, Keselowski was in second until Kasey Kahne was penalized for an uncontrolled tire. This advanced Keselowski to the race lead. However, it took several laps for NASCAR to sort out who was on the lead lap after Matt Kenseth was penalized for not pitting under green, and those who were a lap down pitted without receiving the wave-around.
After the restart, Keselowski was able to hold off Kyle Busch to drive away with the lead. Keselowski slowly built up his lead to over one second just 10 laps into the second segment. Keselowski’s lead was evaporated when the caution waved on the 14th lap of segment two. Keselowski stayed on track as several behind him elected to pit.
Keselowski easily maintained his lead on the restart as Hamlin spun his tires. The green flag run did not last long as the field in the back of the field piled up when Chase Elliott attempted to hit pit road for the mandatory green flag two tire pit stop.
Keselowski lost the lead on the restart to Busch. Only a lap later, as he needed to pit before the lap 85 cut-off. A pit road speed penalty for Busch once again gave the lead to Keselowski. Kyle Larson, who transferred in after winning the third segment of the Sprint Showdown, battled Keselowski, taking the lead with seven laps left in the segment. Keselowski finished the segment in Keselowski.
With Keselowski in second, he had to pit for a mandatory four tire pit stop. Keselowski lost four spots during the mandatory pit stops. Keselowski restarted in the final 13 lap segment in the sixth position. Logano followed Larson by Jimmie Johnson and Busch who fell back on old tires. Keselowski had to jump to the outside to avoid Busch slid up the race track, who was on old tires.
Keselowski climbed to the third position, but was still nearly two seconds behind race leader Larson and teammate Logano. A fierce battle between Larson and Logano sent Larson into the outside wall in turns one and two. The damage for Larson allowed Logano to pull away and win the All-Star race for the first time and Keselowski to finish in second. This was the first time a single team swept the top two finishing positions in the All-Star Race.
Keselowski said, “It was a decent night. Of course I am proud of my teammate Joey Logano. I wish we were in victory lane.”
Logano said, “Awesome car. It says how great Team Penske is that we can unload that well. I thought our car was fast the whole time, we just didn’t show our speed until the end. We finally had a good restart at the end after a few bad ones. Just good hard racing there at the end.”
When asked about the format and whether there was a point that he was confused, Logano said he told his crew chief Todd Gordon on the radio, “There was one point where I said, I don’t know what’s going on, just call the race. All I know is that there is a car in front of me and I should try and pass him.”
Image: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images