NASCAR: Keselowski and Penske Finally Earn a Ring at Indy

Source: Twitter (@Team_Penske)

Brad Keselowski made a big statement ahead of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs by taking home his second successive “crown jewel” victory at the Brickyard 400.

Keselowski and Penske’s first Brickyard 400 victory came on a day where the #2 Ford was not the fastest car.

That honour was shared between Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer, who battled hard for the lead for most of the second half of the race.

As the race approached its final pit stop window, Bowyer appeared to have the race under control. However, smart thinking from Hamlin’s crew chief Mike Wheeler got him in for tyres before Bowyer. The undercut ensured that by the time Bowyer’s pit crew responded, fast out-laps got Hamlin out in front.

Meanwhile, Keselowski stayed out to stretch the fuel window for as long as he could in the hope of catching a late race caution.

That hope appeared to be fading but just as he came to pit road, a large piece of sheet metal fell off of Landon Cassill’s #00 car, bringing out the yellow he desperately wanted on Lap 144.

This put Keselowski in seventh for the restart and with significantly fresher rubber than the drivers ahead of him.

He would work his way up to third by Lap 155, but with just a handful of laps to go, seemed to be running out of time to catch Hamlin and Bowyer.

However the scenario changed again when Cassill was again involved in a caution, this time being collected by Jeffrey Earnhardt in a nasty wreck. Both drivers thankfully were uninjured.

This left a 3-lap shootout between Hamlin, Bowyer and Keselowski for the win, with others waiting to pounce should the three take each other out.

A poor restart for Bowyer gave the Penske Ford an easy second and immediately put Keselowski on the back bumper of Hamlin.

The #11 Toyota drove extremely hard trying to fend him off, but the move for the win was completed out of the final corner leading to the white flag.

Erik Jones was also able to pass Hamlin for second, whilst Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Kevin Harvick and Bowyer completed the top five.

Kurt Busch continued his consistent season in sixth, Jamie McMurray fought hard for the win he needed to make the playoffs before falling to seventh, whilst Kyle Busch confirmed his status as Regular Season Champion with an eighth place finish.

Rounding out the top 10 were two drivers who will be disappointed not to make the Playoffs this season; Paul Menard in ninth and Ryan Newman in tenth.

One of the stories of the race was the performance of Matt Kenseth. Driving on a part-time basis in the #6 Roush Fenway Ford this season, the 2003 champion looked a genuine contender for the win, taking home Stage 2. Despite this, a botched final green flag pit stop saw Kenseth fall a lap down and he would eventually recover to finish 12th.

With no new winners, this race locked Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman in the final two transfer spots for the Playoffs.

Bowman was the final driver to make it in on points and faced an agonising final portion of the race when he fell several laps down following a clash with AJ Allmendinger.

Whilst Bowman was only 33rd, and Johnson 16th, both drivers still have every chance of winning the championship as points are reset before Las Vegas on Sunday.

With the regular season bonus playoff points now added to the chart, this is the standings picture headed to the first round of the Playoffs:

Kyle Busch
Kevin Harvick
Martin Truex Jr.
Brad Keselowski
Clint Bowyer
Joey Logano
Kurt Busch
Chase Elliott
Ryan Blaney
Erik Jones
Austin Dillon
Kyle Larson
Denny Hamlin
Aric Almirola
Jimmie Johnson
Alex Bowman

This Sunday, the championship intensity therefore goes up a level with the South Point 400. Tune in from 8pm BST (3pm EST) on NBCSN.