Holly Cain – NASCAR Wire Service
SPEEDWAY, Ind. – It’s been a historical two weeks for Brad Keselowski. The No. 2 Ford driver executed a hard-nosed pass of Denny Hamlin with two laps remaining in Monday’s rain-delayed Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard to win his first race at prestigious Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one week after visiting Victory Lane in the “crown-jewel” Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Keselowski earned Team Penske its first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win at the track to go with the storied organization’s 17 Indianapolis 500 trophies – including one this May.
The 34-year-old Michigan native finished runner-up in this race last year and positioned himself to one-up the effort thanks to a late-race pit strategy call by his crew chief Paul Wolfe. On a restart with three laps remaining, the 2012 Cup champion muscled by Hamlin on fresher tires. He beat runner-up Erik Jones – who later maneuvered around Hamlin – to the start/finish line by 0.904 seconds.
“It’s incredible, last year I lost this race almost exactly the same way,’’ Keselowski said in Victory Lane after joining his team in climbing the front stretch grandstands to celebrate with the loyal crowd.
“It feels really good to make up for it and to get Roger Penske his first Cup car win here at the Brickyard. It’s an incredible feeling and I’m so happy for Team Penske.’’
Hamlin finished third, while Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five. Hamlin and Bowyer – who raced for the lead much of the final stage – each led a race-high 37 laps.
The race marked the end of the regular season with points leader Kyle Busch – who finished eighth Monday – officially collecting the regular season trophy. He and seven-race winner Harvick top the points standings as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series begins its 10-week Playoff run this Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“We had a lot of ups and downs, mostly downs but fought our way back,’’ the six-race winner and two-time Indy winner Busch said just before receiving the regular season trophy.
“In the grand scheme of things it was a pretty good day considering we get to go home with some hardware.”
The third member of the sport’s “Big 3” this season is four-race winner Martin Truex Jr. The reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion goes into the playoffs ranked third, although he only completed 41 laps at Indy – his No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota officially finishing last in the 40-car field having to retire early with a brake problem.
With the two wins, Keselowski jumps into fourth place in the Playoff standings just ahead of the season’s other two-time winner Bowyer.
Jimmie Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman were the only two drivers that hadn’t secured a Playoff berth prior to the drop of the Indy green flag, but both advanced to the 16-driver field with 16th and 33rd place efforts at Indy.
“We raced up into the top 10 a couple times, we just didn’t have the speed to run up front,’’ said Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
“We’ll go home and work hard and be ready for Las Vegas. I’m just proud I’ve made every Playoff since NASCAR started them. …we have a lot of experience and I think our experience in pressure-packed situations will help us.”
There were plenty of pressure-packed situations in Monday’s race, including two at the end of the day stymying the chances of a couple frontrunners.
Ryan Blaney, who ran among the front-runners most of the day, missed his pit stall on the final stop and ended up 11th in his Team Penske Ford. And former series champion Matt Kenseth, who seemed to revitalize the No. 6 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford operation this weekend, had pit problems as well on the final stop with the car falling off the jack.
Still it was a positive day for the team. Kenseth led five laps and scored the first stage win of the season for the No. 6 Ford, capturing the Stage 2 checkered flag just ahead of Chase Elliott and Jones. His 12th-place effort was a season best for him and a promising sign for Roush-Fenway Racing.
Three former Brickyard winners – Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman – kept the closing laps suspenseful as well. Because they came into the race ranked outside the Playoffs’ top-16, a win would’ve eliminated Bowman from the postseason. They finished seventh, ninth and tenth respectively.
Keselowski’s win was the first for Ford Motor Company at Indianapolis since 1999.
Justin Allgaier gets coveted Xfinity win at the Brickyard
SPEEDWAY, Ind. – The Lilly Diabetes 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway may have been delayed by rain for two days, but that wasn’t enough to break the magical run Justin Allgaier is enjoying.
Holding off JR Motorsports teammate Tyler Reddick after grabbing the lead on Lap 84 of 100 in Monday’s event, Allgaier collected his fifth victory of the season, his third in the last five races and – perhaps most important – his first at the vaunted Brickyard.
“We won Indy – how cool is that?” Allgaier exulted on the team radio after powering his No. 7 Chevrolet across the finish line .092 seconds ahead of Reddick. “You guys (his team) are awesome. That’s all I can say. The car was phenomenal.
“I know that (Indianapolis) has given me a lot of headaches and a lot of grief over the years, but we just won Indy – how cool is that?”
The victory was the 10th of Allgaier’s career. With one race left before the cutoff for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs (Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway), Allgaier moved significantly closer to the regular-season title and accompanying bonus of 15 Playoff points.
He currently leads Cole Custer, second in the series standings, by 49 points. Custer suffered a jarring wreck into the inside wall after turning his Ford into the Toyota of Brandon Jones on Lap 72. Custer finished 29th but maintained a three-point advantage over third-place Christopher Bell, who faded to seventh on Monday after restarting second on Lap 84.
Allgaier dedicated the victory to his father, who helped develop Allgaier’s off-track sophistication by bringing him to Toastmasters classes for young drivers at a hotel near the speedway.
“This one is for my dad, because at Brickyard Crossing up there, he drove me up here every Wednesday night during the winter, so that I could take classes to be the best that I could be, not only inside the car but outside the car,” Allgaier said.
“It was about three-and-a-half hours, and he drove me here every Wednesday night, so hats off to him.”
Ryan Blaney finished third after starting from the pole in his No. 22 Team Penske Ford. Chase Elliott came home fourth, followed by Daniel Hemric, as Chevrolets claimed four of the top five positions.
Reddick wanted to wait until the final lap to battle his teammate for the victory, but he never got a run on the final circuit.
“I didn’t want to cost me and Justin a first- and second-place finish,” Reddick said. “I wanted it to be off Turn 4, preferably on the last lap… Unfortunately, I didn’t get the run I needed on that last lap.
“I really should have taken it with two (laps) to go, but I was unsure. I really didn’t want to mess up either one of our days.”
Elliott Sadler saw his hopes for a regular-season title disappear on Lap 23, when Ty Dillon spun in Turn 3 and carried Sadler’s Chevrolet into the outside wall.
“We’re done,” radioed Sadler, who fell out of the race in 35th place and dropped to fifth in the standings, 69 points behind Allgaier.
Austin Cindric, 12th in the standings and currently in the last Playoff-eligible position, fell out of the race after running through the grass and tearing the splitter off his No. 12 Ford, trying to avoid the Sadler wreck. Cindric finished 34th but remained 57 points ahead of 13th-place Michael Annett, who ran 31st.