Brad Keselowski takes regular season finale; playoff roster set
By Rick Minter/ Andrews McMeel Syndication
After going winless for the first 24 races of the 2018 Monster Energy Cup Series season, Brad Keselowski has scored back-to-back victories, and they came in two of the sport’s marquee events.
On Sept. 2 at Darlington Raceway, Keselowski made a late charge to win his first Southern 500. On Monday, in a rain-delayed Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he took advantage of fresher tires on his No. 2 Ford and wrestled the lead from Denny Hamlin coming to the white flag.
Sophomore Cup driver Erik Jones made a late surge to take the runner-up spot over Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer.
The victory, arguably the biggest of the 26 that Keselowski has scored in his 11-year Cup career, was the first at Indianapolis in the NASCAR Cup Series for his car owner, Roger Penske, who has 17 wins as an owner in the Indianapolis 500.
Penske also won the 500 in May, giving him a sweep of the track’s top two races this season.
Keselowski was a nonfactor for most of Monday’s race. Bowyer, who led 37 laps, appeared to have the fastest car as the laps wound down. However, he made his final pit stop a couple of laps after Hamlin, running second at that point, made his stop. When Bowyer returned to the track, he was in second place and unable to overtake Hamlin.
Then Keselowski entered the picture, having stopped for fresh tires 15 laps after the leaders. He lined up eighth on the next-to-last restart and drove to third place before the race’s final caution set up a three-lap run to the finish.
Hamlin took the early lead, but Keselowski put his fresher rubber to work. After a couple of door-to-door bumps, he surged ahead to take the win.
“We weren’t the fastest car by far, but this team never gave up on it, made the most of the strategy and executed a perfect race,” Keselowski said. “That is something I am so proud of.”
The finish of Monday’s 400-miler also set the field for the 10-race, season-ending playoffs.
Kyle Busch, with an eighth-place finish, secured the regular season championship and the 15-point bonus it carries, while Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman held onto the bottom two spots among the 16 drivers who will start the playoffs this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Johnson finished 16th and Bowman was 33rd after being collected in an early crash.
Busch and Harvick will start the playoffs with 2,050 points apiece, while Martin Truex Jr. begins with 2,035. Keselowski opens with 2,019, and the rest of the drivers fall in line based on the playoff points they’ve accumulated this season by winning either races or stages. Johnson and Bowman start with the playoff minimum of 2,000 points apiece, as neither has won a race or a stage this year.
Busch said the playoff points are important, as drivers carry them through the early rounds of the playoffs and they can help a driver overcome a bad finish in one race and continue to the next round.
“Any bonus points you can pick up are obviously good ones, and I feel like we did a good job of gaining some of that stuff here this year,” he said.
Photo Caption:Brad Keselowski passes by his crew following the team’s victory in the rain-delayed Big Machine Vodka 400 at Indianapolis.
By Michael Reaves/Getty Images for NASCAR