After a winless streak of nearly a year, a trip to the West Coast was just what the doctor ordered for Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski took advantage of his strong No. 2 Miller Lite Ford and maneuvered his way past teammate Joey Logano and an ill-handling Kyle Busch to claim the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The win was Keselowski’s first in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since he triumphed at Auto Club Speedway on Mar. 22, 2015.
The victory came at the end of one of the strangest races in recent memory.
Known for its picturesque scenery and near-perfect weather, Las Vegas, NV proved dusty, rainy and windy with NASCAR in town.
With gusts reaching speeds of over 40 mph, wind proved to be a major factor throughout Sunday. Combined with occasional rain showers, the weather led to a slight delay for the start of Sunday’s event.
Kurt Busch finally led the field to green shortly before 4 p.m. ET (1 p.m. local time), taking off to lead the opening 31 laps of the race.
Unfortunately for Busch, his time up front would be short-lived. Busch was one of many drivers to fall victim to pit road penalties, dropping to the tail-end of the field after getting caught speeding during the first round of stops. Busch would recover to finish ninth, but never again saw the lead.
Other drivers would fare better after suffering the same fate. Both Keselowski and Austin Dillon were issued speeding penalties later in the race, with Dillon briefly falling two laps down. They would both rally to finish inside of the top five.
With Busch out of contention, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson proved to be the drivers to beat. Logano worked his way around Denny Hamlin to take the lead shortly after the competition caution. He would go on to lead 75 laps.
Later, as the race passed the halfway point, Johnson established himself as the leader. He would lead a race-high 76 laps.
It was Johnson that held the lead with just under 50 laps remaining as a caution flag fell for an incident
involving Kyle Larson and Regan Smith. The six-time champion led the field to their final pit stops, winning the battle off of pit road handily. However, the decision would cost Johnson the lead.
Having just pitted with 68 laps to go, Logano, Keselowski and Dillon stayed out to inherit the top three positions. The move was bold, considered by many to be too long to drive on a tank of fuel. However, one major factor would help them.
An issue throughout the day, shifting winds led to a dust storm late in the race. Dust blanketed the racetrack, limiting vision for fans, media and drivers.
With visibility an issue, NASCAR delayed the restart. When the dust seemed to be under control, a spot of rain postponed the green flag even longer.
The green flag wouldn’t fall until only 38 laps remained in the 400-lap event. When it did, a new factor emerged.
One day removed from a 200-lap trouncing of the XFINITY Series field, Kyle Busch parlayed one of the greatest restarts of is life to the race lead.
Restarting sixth, Busch jumped to the outside of Johnson and Dillon. By the time the field made their way to Turn 2, Busch’s line had proven to be the best. He drove off of the turn in third, and with one of the strongest runs achieved all day, Busch immediately closed in on Keselowski and Logano.
The Nevada native would jump under Logano. By Turn 3, he was the race leader.
Busch’s joy mixed with misfortune for his teammates. Moments after he inherited the lead, teammate Matt Kenseth lost control of his No. 20 Toyota. Kenseth slid up the track, right into the driving lane of Chase Elliott. The two collided, totaling both machines.
Behind them, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards spun. The two would have to restart in the back.
When the green flag flew for the final time, Busch shot out to the lead. Behind him, Logano and Keselowski dueled for the second position. Busch appeared to be driving off into the Las Vegas sunset with a victory, but with 20 laps remaining he reported a vibration.
Having taken only left-side tires on his last stop, Busch had an issue with his right-front tire. Suddenly, his lap times slowed. Logano and Keselowski reeled him in as they dueled for second.
Logano and Keselowski had both been up front for much of the day, but their two cars differed greatly. Logano’s No. 22 was strong on short runs, but Keselowski’s was the best in the field when the race stayed green.
It took Keselowski over 20 laps, but he finally worked his way around Logano as the race approached 10 to go.
A few laps later, he had caught Busch.
“Nothing I can do,” said Busch to crew chief Adam Stevens.
Driving a wounded machine, Busch had nothing left to hold the Blanco Deuce at bay. Keselowski quickly passed him on the inside with six laps remaining and drove off to the victory.
Behind Keselowski, Busch attempted to hold Logano and Johnson at bay, but the two drivers each maneuvered their way around the defending champion in the final lap, with Logano claiming a 1-2 finish for Team Penske, and Johnson just edging Busch for third at the line.
Busch would settle for fourth, with Dillon rebounding to finish fifth and earn his second top five in three races.
Rookie Ryan Blaney capped off an impressive day to give Wood Brothers Racing a sixth-place finish. Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Kurt Busch and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top 10.
The caution flag fell six times in the wild, windy race at Las Vegas. Despite worries that the heavy winds would lead to multiple crashes, only two of the cautions were caused by wrecks. The others were attributed to debris blown around the circuit and the competition caution on lap 30.
There were 20 lead changes between nine leaders on the day.
With his victory, Keselowski joins Johnson and Hamlin as drivers that have qualified for the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup.
The Sprint Cup Series will return to action on Mar. 13, for the Good Sam 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
About the author
A graduate of Ball State, Aaron rejoins Frontstretch for his second season in 2016 following a successful year that included covering seven races and starting the popular "Two-Headed Monster" column in 2015. Now in his third year of covering motorsports, Aaron serves as an Assistant Editor for Frontstretch while also contributing to other popular sites including Speed51 and The Apex. He encourages you to come say hi when you see him at the track.
A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.