LAS VEGAS, NV – SEPTEMBER 16: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Autotrader Ford,
celebrates in victory lane after winning during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series SouthPoint 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on September 16, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – In a war of attrition that caused a multitude of problems for the majority of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff contenders, Brad Keselowski emerged unscathed with his third straight victory in the series and the 500th triumph for Team Penske in all forms of racing combined.

Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Playoff opener for NASCAR’s foremost series, went to overtime, lasting five laps longer than the scheduled 267. But Keselowski held the top spot through three tension-laden restarts to beat runner-up Kyle Larson to the finish line by 1.276 seconds on the final two-lap shootout.

With his third victory of the season, his third at  Las Vegas and the 27th of his career, Keselowski guaranteed himself a spot in the second round of the Playoffs.

“Team Penske—500 wins today,” Keselowski said. “It’s a huge day for the Captain (team owner Roger Penske). I expect he’s watching (from the IndyCar season finale at Sonoma Raceway). Hey, boss!

“To start off the Playoffs with a win is really strong. I know it’s three in a row and all that great stuff, but it’s really a testament to this team… We weren’t as fast as the 78 car (third-place finisher Martin Truex Jr.), but we nailed the pit stops and the restarts.”

Most of the 16 Playoff contenders just got nailed—and decisively.

Kevin Harvick, the series leader in victories with seven this year, blew a tire on Lap 148 and rocketed into the Turn 1 wall. Pole winner Erik Jones, running behind Harvick, couldn’t avoid the wreck and plowed into Harvick’s Ford. Both cars were eliminated, with Harvick finishing 39th and Jones 40th.

In a similar incident in Turn 4 on Lap 212, Chase Elliott was collected against the outside wall when Jamie McMurray’s Chevrolet turned sideways in front of him. Elliott fell out of the race in 36th place.

Denny Hamlin’s spin off Turn 4 on Lap 247 caused the ninth caution and subsequent restart that allowed Keselowski to take the lead from Larson, who had passed the No. 2 Team Penske Ford on Lap 245 and had the long-run speed to win the race, had the event stayed incident-free to the finish.

Jimmie Johnson showed some of his best speed of the season, but his No. 48 Chevrolet sustained heavy damage in a Lap 257 accident that also involved Playoff drivers Clint Bowyer, Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch. Johnson, a seven-time series champion, finished 22nd, two laps down, one position behind Busch and one ahead of Bowyer.

Bowman came home 19th and currently occupies the 12th position in the standings, with the Playoff field set to be cut from 16 drivers to 12 two races hence at Charlotte.

Kyle Busch survived contact with the outside wall, a spin through the infield grass and damage to the front of his No. 18 Toyota to finish seventh.

Truex, who won the first stage, took the series lead by two points over Kyle Busch. Keselowski is 18 points back in third place, with Harvick 27 points behind in fourth, thanks to the 50 Playoff points he accumulated during the regular season.

The four drivers currently on the outside when it comes to advancing to the next round are Johnson, Elliott, Jones and Hamlin.

Five of the race’s 12 cautions came in the last 40 laps, as the accidents took their toll on one Playoff driver after another.

“I didn’t think it was ever going to end,” said Keselowski, the third driver to win three consecutive races this season, joining Harvick and Kyle Busch. “I was worried about running out of gas there at the end.”

Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney ran fourth and fifth, respectively. Aric Almirola finished sixth and Playoff driver Austin Dillon came home 11th after     starting from the rear of the field because of unapproved adjustments to the body of his car.

“Brad clearly found a horseshoe,” said Truex, the defending series champion. “Three races in a row he’s won, and he has not had the best car. “Obviously, he hasn’t led the most laps in any of those races, and he showed up at the end with good pit stops and good short run speed. I think, clearly, it’s pretty obvious how it worked out. He’s hot right now. He’s on a streak. That’s the way it goes.” starting from the rear of the field because of unapproved adjustments to the body of his car.

CHARLOTTE, NC – SEPTEMBER 18: (L-R TOP) Matt Tift, Elliott Sadler, Austin Cindric, Christopher Bell, Ryan Reed, Daniel Hemric (L-R BOTTOM) Ross Chastain, Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, Justi Allgaier, Ryan Truex and Brandon Jones pose for a photograph during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Production Media Day at Charlotte Motor Speedway on September 18, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

NASCAR Xfinity Series 12-driver Playoff field set

LAS VEGAS – The NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was high action and great drama with a first time winner in Ross Chastain and the 12 championship eligible drivers entering the race maintaining their contention for the opening round of the Playoffs, which begin next week at Richmond, Va.

Chastain’s Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet held off five-time season winner Justin Allgaier and fellow Playoff bound driver Cole Custer for his first career victory in 132 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts. Allgaier wrapped up the regular season title following the second stage of Saturday’s race and will take a seven-point advantage over Christopher Bell and the rest of the 12-driver field heading into the Playoff opener next week.

Custer enters the Playoffs ranked third sharing the same points total with veteran Elliott Sadler, who led the championship for 15 weeks and announced earlier this season he would be retiring following the season finale.

Daniel Hemric, Tyler Reddick and Vegas winner Chastain all move into the Playoffs a point behind Custer and Sadler. Brandon Jones, Ryan Truex, Matt Tifft, Austin Cindric and Ryan Reed round out the 12-driver field vying for the championship.

“I feel like today was a lot of fun, comers and goers, guys good on the short run, guys good on the long run,’’ Allgaier said. “Everybody at one point in the race that we’ll be battling [in the Playoffs] had a run or two where they were really, really good. I think that shows the strength of the series. We’re going to have to execute and do our job.’’

Allgaier has certainly executed this season – his win total (five) more than doubles his career win total in nine previous Xfinity seasons. The 32-year old Illinois native’s runner-up finish gave him a series best 21 top-10s in 2018. He has five runner-up finishes in addition to his victory total in the JR Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet.

Eight of the top-10 finishers Saturday advanced to the Playoffs – something that bodes well for the competitive nature of the series. The rookie Bell, who finished fourth on Saturday, takes four wins into the Playoffs. Reddick, who won the season-opener at Daytona Beach, and Chastain are the other race winners.

Although Chastain led 180 of the 200 laps, he was definitely pressured throughout the race. And the pack of cars on his bumper were driven by equally motivated Playoff competitors eager to glean some good mojo for next week’s Playoff opener. He, Allgaier and Custer traded the point often and Hemric led as well.

For a couple of the Playoff contenders, Saturday afternoon marked a rough end for the regular season. Tifft and Reed were involved in a crash only 63 laps into the race. Reddick and Hemric were collected in an accident with only 12 laps remaining. Both of them had been front-running cars for much of the race.

NASCAR Xfinity Series 12-driver Playoff field set

LAS VEGAS – The NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was high action and great drama with a first time winner in Ross Chastain and the 12 championship eligible drivers entering the race maintaining their contention for the opening round of the Playoffs, which begin next week at Richmond, Va.

Chastain’s Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet held off five-time season winner Justin Allgaier and fellow Playoff bound driver Cole Custer for his first career victory in 132 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts. Allgaier wrapped up the regular season title following the second stage of Saturday’s race and will take a seven-point advantage over Christopher Bell and the rest of the 12-driver field heading into the Playoff opener next week.

Custer enters the Playoffs ranked third sharing the same points total with veteran Elliott Sadler, who led the championship for 15 weeks and announced earlier this season he would be retiring following the season finale.

Daniel Hemric, Tyler Reddick and Vegas winner Chastain all move into the Playoffs a point behind Custer and Sadler. Brandon Jones, Ryan Truex, Matt Tifft, Austin Cindric and Ryan Reed round out the 12-driver field vying for the championship.

“I feel like today was a lot of fun, comers and goers, guys good on the short run, guys good on the long run,’’ Allgaier said. “Everybody at one point in the race that we’ll be battling [in the Playoffs] had a run or two where they were really, really good.

“I think that shows the strength of the series. We’re going to have to execute and do our job.’’

Allgaier has certainly executed this season – his win total (five) more than doubles his career win total in nine previous Xfinity seasons. The 32-year old Illinois native’s runner-up finish gave him a series best 21 top-10s in 2018. He has five runner-up finishes in addition to his victory total in the JR Motorsports No. 7 Chevrolet.

Eight of the top-10 finishers Saturday advanced to the Playoffs – something that bodes well for the competitive nature of the series. The rookie Bell, who finished fourth on Saturday, takes four wins into the Playoffs. Reddick, who won the season-opener at Daytona Beach, and Chastain are the other race winners.

Although Chastain led 180 of the 200 laps, he was definitely pressured throughout the race. And the pack of cars on his bumper were driven by equally motivated Playoff competitors eager to glean some good mojo for next week’s Playoff opener. He, Allgaier and Custer traded the point often and Hemric led as well.

“Just didn’t have everything go our way, but I’m glad we’re in it and we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with,’’ Custer promised on pit road.

“I feel like we compete for wins each weekend, it’s just about having it all fall in place. We have to just keep trying to do what we do.”

For a couple of the Playoff contenders, Saturday afternoon marked a rough end for the regular season. Tifft and Reed were involved in a crash only 63 laps into the race. Reddick and Hemric were collected in an accident with only 12 laps remaining. Both of them had been front-running cars for much of the race.

“It’s better to have this day today rather than in the Playoffs,’’ Tifft said, managing a smile. “We had the speed today again, just a freak deal [the accident]. I’m real excited about the Playoffs, a lot of tracks really suit me and our team’s strengths. I’m looking forward to get going.’’

“You saw it today, it’s going to be a lot of hard, close racing. We saw it all year, we’ve been putting on some incredible races. Glad to be a part of it and hope to come out on top.’’

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