Brad Keselowski led one lap on Sunday at Auto Club Speedway. It just so happened to be the most important one. In what statistically is Keselowski’s worst racetrack, lady luck was on his side late in the 400-mile race.
With the win today, both of Team Penske cars are locked into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. This could be a confidence boost for Keselowski as he didn’t have a top-five finish heading into the race at Auto Club Speedway.
“I know the No. 4 and the No. 41 were the class of the weekend,” Keselowski said as he took a swig of beer in victory lane. “Those cars on speed deserved to win. We kind of stole one today. When I crossed the finish line, all I could think was I just won at one of Roger’s tracks. He built the speedway and that’s pretty cool.”
With less than two laps to go, NASCAR called for a caution because they spotted debris in Turn 4. This led to a mix in pit strategies with exceptional tire wear. Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick, were running first and second and took two tires, along with the next nine drivers. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle each stayed out with 15 lap old tires.
On the first green-white-checkered, Kyle Larson got into the wall off Turn 2. This led to NASCAR throwing a caution, leading to the second green-white-checkered finish.
On the second attempt to finish the race in two laps, Busch was the leader. But heading into Turn 1 on the last lap, the driver of the No. 2 car took the lead as he got under him and he led the rest of the lap to steal the victory at Auto Club Speedway.
Busch came up three quarters of a lap short of having a perfect weekend. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was fastest in opening practice on Friday, and won the pole Friday afternoon. On Saturday, he won both practice sessions. During the race, he was the class of the field as he led 65 laps on the day, the most out of all drivers.
“We had a great Haas Automation Chevrolet all day,” Busch said in disbelief. “It was fantastic to drive. Everyone chipped in on it with building the car. We just got hung out on that yellow at the end. When do you pit and put four tires on or just two tires on. The last restart, Brad just out-muscled me with four tires.”
For the eighth consecutive race, Harvick has finished inside of the top two, which is a feat accomplished by only seven-time champion Richard Petty. He came up just short of sweeping the west coast swing after winning at Las Vegas and Phoenix.
“You just never know how the restart is going to work out,” Harvick said after finishing second. “You’re on both sides of the fence of what you should and shouldn’t do.”
The first caution came out on Lap 23, when Gordon took the air off of the spoiler of David Ragan as they were battling for the seventh position.
The biggest incident came when Sam Hornish, Jr. and Trevor Bayne made contact on Lap 98. In the scuffle, Hornish cut across the left front of Bayne and the No. 9 got into the wall. This ended Hornish’s chance of a decent finish as he finished last 54 laps behind the leader.
Joey Logano had to overcome a late race pit penalty as the No. 22 had an uncontrolled tire on pit road. This put the Team Penske driver back into 30th with 45 laps to go. The No. 22 eventually rebounded to finish seventh.
In what looked to be the last caution on Lap 185, Matt Kenseth came down pit-road as the leader. However, as Kenseth exited his pit stall he broke a rear axle. The transition from a concrete pit-box to an asphalt pit-road looked to be the dagger in Kenseth’s shot at his first victory in the last 44 races. The No. 20 led 43 laps on the afternoon, yet finished in the 31st position.
His teammate Denny Hamlin was also having a fantastic run. In today’s 400-mile event, Hamlin led 56 laps. That is more than all of the Toyota’s combined in the first four race of the 2015 season.
Hamlin was having his best run of the season until the pit stops prior to the first green-white-checkered finish. It was on that pit-stop that Hamlin’s pit-crew got nagged with an uncontrolled tire. This put the No. 11 FedEx Camry to the tail-end of the longest line and restarted 31st. Hamlin could only drive his way up to a disappointing 28th place finish.
All 43 cars were on the race track at the end of the day. This is the first time that all 43 cars finished on track since the Brickyard 400 in 2013.
With the win at Auto Club Speedway, it marks Keselowski’s 17th career victory in the Sprint Cup Series. 16 of them have come in the No. 2 at Team Penske. Keselowski has now won at 12 different racetracks on the Sprint Cup schedule.