Brad Keselowski passed Kyle Busch for the lead with five laps to go and held on to win Sunday’s Kobalt 400 and claim his second career victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Keselowski pulled away and won comfortably by 0.675 seconds. Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson were separated by inches in their respective finishes of second and third.
Busch was plagued by a right front-tire vibration with 10 to go and quickly lost ground. He took only left-side tires on his final pit stop with 51 to go.
The Las Vegas native and winner of the Xfinity Series race Saturday finished fourth. Austin Dillon rounded out the top five. Here is a look at the final results:
|8||Dale Earnhardt Jr.|
|11||Martin Truex Jr.|
|12||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
Keselowski became the first driver since 2013 to overcome a speeding penalty on pit road and win, according to Fox commentator Mike Joy. Keselowski rebounded with an aggressive pit strategy with 51 to go, staying out with Logano, while most contenders opted for fresh tires. He assumed second place on the restart.
With new rubber, Busch soared to a commanding lead after the restart, but the long-run grip eventually ran out.
The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford looked happy with how the events played out with quite the burnout, via Ford Performance:
Busch looked to be the car to beat in the final stages, shooting from sixth to first in less than a lap when the field returned to green with 44 to go. He took Logano by surprise in the process, per Lee Spencer of Motorsport.com:
Busch maintained a dominant pace on the final restart with 35 to go, building a lead of one second over Logano after five laps.
Atlanta Motor Speedway quoted iconic racer Benny Parsons when watching Busch’s surge:
Kyle Busch, as good ol' BP once said, looks like he was 'shot out of a canyon.'— AtlantaMotorSpeedway (@amsupdates) March 6, 2016
But the vibration, as Busch said to the Fox telecasters, was a major cause of his demise.
He wasn’t the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver who ran into trouble.
Matt Kenseth’s awful luck to start the season continued when he wrecked while running in fifth place with 43 laps remaining. Martin Truex Jr. nicked Kenseth’s back bumper and sent the No. 20 Toyota spinning in Turn 1, making him a sitting duck for oncoming traffic. Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch and teammate Carl Edwards were also involved.
Here is a look at the incident, courtesy of NASCAR:
After reaching the garage with major body damage, Kenseth gave his assessment of the incident, per Jim Utter of Motorsport.com:
Kenseth: "I went into Turn 1 and it just spun out. I rally don't know what happened after that other than I got ran into."— Jim Utter (@jim_utter) March 6, 2016
Kenseth, a three-time Las Vegas winner, led nine laps and ran up front most of the afternoon.
With Sunday’s wreck, the 2003 champion has now had three straight weeks of disappointment to start the season. He was pushed out of the way while leading in the final turn of the Daytona 500 and was black-flagged after leading 47 laps at Atlanta because of confusion with his team over the radio.
The aggressive pit strategies by Keselowski and Logano paid off swimmingly for the Penske Racing teammates.
Logano’s crew chief, Todd Gordon, told the Fox telecast he made the call because of the No. 22 Ford's struggles when mired in seventh and eighth. He also rolled the dice on the possibility of rain arriving before the finish of the race.
Bob Pockrass of ESPN.com explained why the strategy seemed logical:
Pole-sitter Kurt Busch had a fast car early, but penalties and the late accident with Kenseth kept him from contending for the win. He settled for ninth.
His No. 41 Chevrolet was penalized for speeding on the first round of pit stops when the first caution waved at Lap 30. Busch was the leader at the time, but because his penalty came while the field was under yellow, he was fortunate not to go a lap down.
He still had some critical words for NASCAR over the radio, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today:
Kurt Busch: "Whenever NASCAR f------ grows up and goes to a pit road speed limiter button, we'll all have a safer pit road."— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) March 6, 2016
A slew of drivers were flagged Sunday for exceeding the 45 mph speed limit on pit road. Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Greg Biffle and Kyle Larson were among those penalized. Clint Bowyer also received a pass-through penalty for an uncontrolled tire.
Larson later got spun by AJ Allmendinger and then tied up in a wreck with Regan Smith when Smith lost control of his No. 7 machine in Turn 4 on Lap 215. NASCAR tweeted its condolences for Larson and his No. 42 team on what was a difficult afternoon:
Wind was a major factor Sunday, as gusts reached stronger than 30 mph in rainy conditions just before the start. The National Weather Service even issued a wind advisory in Las Vegas, per Gluck.
Here is a look at the car cover nearly taking out a crew member for Truex just prior to the race, per At The Buzzer:
Be careful out there, NASCAR crews. That wind will get ya!https://t.co/roZZkKGyGy— AtTheBuzzer (@TheBuzzerOnFOX) March 6, 2016
Forty-time Sprint Cup winner Mark Martin, now retired, tweeted he was glad to be on the sidelines for Sunday’s race:
“I’ve never seen these kind of conditions,” Fox commentator Jeff Gordon said during Sunday’s telecast.
The strong gusts were a factor in sending debris all over, which caused a caution with 99 laps to go. NASCAR also issued a competition caution at Lap 30 to account for the wind. This gave drivers the opportunity to make adjustments for the conditions while under yellow.
The wind even blew away the American flag Keselowski waved from his window during his burnout.
With the win—the 18th of his career—Keselowski has all but punched his ticket to the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the fourth time in his six full seasons since joining Penske. He won the 2012 title.
Here is a look at the updated standings:
|1||Kyle Busch||116 (Leader)|
|2||Jimmie Johnson||110 (-6)|
|3||Kevin Harvick||109 (-7)|
|4||Joey Logano||104 (-12)|
|5||Kurt Busch||102 (-14)|
|6||Brad Keselowski||98 (-18)|
|7||Carl Edwards||96 (-20)|
|8||Denny Hamlin||93 (-23)|
|9||Martin Truex Jr.||90 (-26)|
|10||Austin Dillon||90 (-26)|
Keselowski will now set his sights on Phoenix, where he has seven top-10 finishes in his last eight races. This young Sprint Cup season has featured a new winner in each of the first three events, and the slick, one-mile oval the drivers will attack next week could present another new face in Victory Lane.