LAS VEGAS: Brad Keselowski tracked down Kyle Busch with five laps remaining on Sunday (Monday in Manila) and won the Kobalt 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
It was the first victory of the season for Keselowski, who all-but clinched a spot in the postseason Chase for the Cup with the victory.
Busch said his car had a vibration on the right front of his Toyota. He had taken the lead on a restart with 45 laps left, but couldn’t hold off Keselowski, finishing fourth.
“We had awesome speed at the end of every run,” Keselowski said. “When I got to [Busch], I saw his car falling off.”
Keselowski’s Team Penske team-mate Joey Logano was second. Jimmie Johnson, who won last week at Atlanta, was third.
Pole-winner Kurt Busch, penalized early in the race for speeding on pit road, was ninth.
Rain delayed the start of the race, and high winds and a late-race dust storm made visibility a challenge, but the bizarre conditions left Keselowski undeterred. Nor did a pit road speeding penalty under caution on lap 180 prove catastrophic, thanks to a series of astute pit calls by crew chief Paul Wolfe.
“This is really, really great,” said Keselowski, who lauded the lower-downforce aerodynamic package in place for the 2016 season. “It seemed like there were plenty of challenges, whether it was pit road or the weather or cautions.”
“They threw everything they had at us today but this Miller Lite Ford team was too strong, and we were able to fight them off and get to Victory Lane,” he added.
Relative to the field, Keselowski picked up speed toward the end of a run with a car that was eminently maneuverable. Busch’s car took off early but couldn’t maintain its pace late in a fuel run.
“He [Busch] had a really good short-run car, but it fell off on the long run,” Keselowski said. “That’s part of this new package. Some are good on short runs and some are good on long runs, and we had a really good long-run car today,” Keselowski said.
Six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson beat Busch to the finish line by .016 seconds to secure third place. Austin Dillon ran fifth, and rookie Ryan Blaney came home sixth, posting a career-best finish on an open-motor race track.
The victory was Keselowski’s second at Las Vegas and the 18th of his career, but it wouldn’t have been possible if Wolfe hadn’t elected to keep the No. 2 Ford on the track on lap 217 when all but Keselowski, Logano and Dillon pitted for tires and fuel under the fifth caution of the race.
It took 38 laps, however, for the benefits of the strategy to become apparent — thanks to Busch’s remarkable restart on lap 224. From the sixth position, Busch powered his No. 18 Toyota to the outside of Johnson’s Chevrolet, picked up huge momentum off the second corner, dived to the inside and shot past both Logano and Keselowski entering Turn 3.
One lap later, a multi-car wreck in Turn 1 ended strong runs by Matth Kenseth and rookie Chase Elliot, but the seven laps run under the resulting sixth and final caution enabled Keselowski, Logano and Dillon to stretch their fuel supplies to the end of the race.
Busch streaked away on the lap 233 restart but developed a pronounced vibration in the right front of this car, and the chase group of Keselowski, Logano and Johnson closed in. Keselowski passed Logano for the second spot on Lap 259 of 267 and steaked past Busch three laps later.
TNS WITH REPORT FROM NASCAR.COM