LAS VEGAS—Brad Keselowski nailed the final restart and roared away from the field in the scorching Vegas heat.
With another huge performance in his late-season surge, Keselowski finished up front again—and he's got NASCAR's “Big Three” drivers looking over their shoulders.
Keselowski raced to his third-straight Cup series victory yesterday, opening the playoffs by persevering through a wreck-filled afternoon and taking charge of overtime.
He also secured team owner Roger Penske's 500th victory across all competitions with his resourceful performance amid 99-degree F conditions and constant stop-and-start late drama of a race featuring 12 cautions and several wrecks.
“I didn't think it was ever going to end,” Keselowski admitted after his 27th career victory and third in Las Vegas.
“I was worried about running out of gas there at the end.”
Keselowski had plenty of worries with just two laps to go while he sat in his stationary car and waited for the clean-up of Michael McDowell's wreck with Kurt Busch.
But after the red-flag stop ended, nobody could keep up with Keselowski's Team Penske Ford.
The victory extended an extraordinary late-season run for Keselowski, who won at Darlington and the Brickyard in consecutive weeks before Vegas.
Keselowski credited his pit crew's efficiency for the latest win in his improbable surge, which has added some intrigue to a NASCAR season largely dominated by the “Big Three” of Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch.
“We have not been the best car the last three weeks," Keselowski stressed. ”We put everything together when it counted and we kind of stole it today.
"Same scenario the last two weeks . . . I feel like we stole the last three races.
“We're not complaining but we still have a lot of work to do to go out there and win heads-up without those issues,” he conceded.
Penske was not in attendance for his landmark victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, instead watching from Sonoma at the IndyCar season finale.
He formed Team Penske in 1966, and it has fielded 50 winning drivers across 14 race series during the ensuing 52 years.
The owner pumped his fist on the timing stand in Sonoma after Keselowski won.
“We did it, boss!" Keselowski shouted. ”That's quite a number, right?
“It's really great to be a part of that, and to get the last one to get us there, that's pretty great.”
Kyle Larson was second yesterday while Truex, the defending Cup series champion, came in third.
Keselowski's rivals are very aware of his surge against stiff odds.
“Brad clearly found the horseshoe," Truex said. ”Three races in a row he's won [and] he has not had the best car. . . .
"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.
“He's hot right now. He's on a streak," Truex added. ”That's the way it goes.
“We finished third with the best car.”
Eight of the 16 playoff drivers had various problems during the race, which had six cautions in the final 60 laps alone.
Four playoff drivers failed to finish, including Harvick, who wrecked with 120 laps to go when he blew his right front tire.
Kyle Busch finished seventh in Vegas even after clipping the wall and plowing through the infield grass with 35 laps to go.
Truex moved into the overall points lead over Busch and Keselowski, who leapfrogged Harvick.