KESELOWSKI WINS SOUTHERN 500
Hodges News Service
DARLINGTON, S.C.--Brad Keselowski saved the best for last in Sunday's Southern 500 Cup Series race. He was never a threat to the leaders until near the end of the 367-lap race, and then he came out like a smoking gun.
Kyle Larson had the dominant car, winning both stages of the race and leading 284 laps, but was unable to match the speed of Keselowski's No. 2 Penske Ford during the last 20 laps.
Larson was leading when the race's last caution came on lap 346 after Jeffrey Earnhardt spun out.
Both Larson and Keselowski pitted for four fresh tires. Keselowski was the first car off pit road. On the restart, Keselowski was able to pull away from Larson and Joey Logano for his first victory of the season.
This is the best car we've had all year, said Keselowski. But I've got to give a lot of the credit to my pit crew. They did a great job all night long, and put me in a position to win the race.
Joey Logano didn't lead any laps, but finished a strong second.
My car was good on the restarts, but Brad was pretty fast tonight, said Logano. We wanted to be in victory lane, and I think we will, because of the momentum this team has.
It was a disappointing night for Larson, who appeared to have the race in hand until the last caution came out.
We had the best car, but we came up short, said Larson. The last pit stop hurt us. It's always important to come out of the pits first, so you can control the start of the race. It was really bad to lose a race like this after having led so much of it.
Kevin Harvick was fourth, followed by Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray, and Denny Hamlin.
The first wreck came during lap 128 after Kyle Busch ran into the back of Joey Gase's No. 23, sending Gase into the wall.
Jimmie Johnson was one of the biggest losers of the race. If it hadn't been for bad luck, he wouldn't have had any luck at all. During the early stage of the race, he was caught speeding on pit road during a routine tire stop and assessed a pass-through penalty. Then, his car's engine developed a problem and by lap 227 he was done for the night.
Johnson's poor finish might cost him a spot in the Chase. He is currently 15th in points, just 19 points ahead of the last-place driver.
The regular 26-race season ends next week at Indianapolis. The top-16 drivers will have their points reset and the 10-race Chase will begin September 16 at Las Vegas. The following 14 drivers have secured a spot for Round One either through wins or points: Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Aric Almirola, Erik Jones, and Austin Dillon. Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman are the last two drivers, who could miss the cut.
Results of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race held Sept. 1 at Darlington: 1. Brad Keselowski, 2. Cole Custer, 3. Tyler Reddick, 4. Denny Hamlin, 5. Elliott Sadler, 6. Chase Elliott, 7. Justin Allgaier, 8. Matt Tifft, 9. Ty Dillon, 10. Michael Annett.
Top-10 leaders with one race left before the Xfinity Series Chase begins: 1. Allgaier-888, 2. Sadler-876, 3. Custer-871, 4. Bell-852, 5. Hemric-844, 6. Reddick-693, 7. B. Jones-687, 8. Tifft-663, 9. R. Truex-660, 10. Red-559.
NASCAR'S BIG 3
Upbeat or sullen are two of many feelings you might experience when Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr. win, but they are at the head of the class when it comes to Cup Series drivers. Each one is a former champion, and each has his sights set on winning the 2018 championship.
Harvick now has seven victories. His series-leading seventh victory of the season at Michigan International Speedway showed just how strong the No. 4 team is with Harvick behind the wheel. More important than the Ford win and two stage wins for Harvick might just be his sweeping of the seven playoff points that came with it, as he left the Irish Hills of Michigan with 40 precious playoff points.
Kyle Busch, who finished third at Michigan, is next with 35 points, and Truex, who finished 14th, has 27. A distant fourth in playoff points is Clint Bowyer with ten.
Busch has six wins and some other impressive stats. He finished third at Michigan, and won 6 of the last 17 races and finished in the top five in 10 of the last 11 races. Michigan was his 17th top-five finish in 2018.. He leads active drivers with 7 wins and 2,233 laps led at Bristol
Martin Truex Jr. started off the season with an 18th-place finish in the Daytona 500, after being caught up in a late race wreck. For the next few weeks, Truex picked up top five finishes for the next five straight races, including two poles, and a win at Auto Club Speedway. He swept all three stages in Fontana, leading 125 of the 200 laps to his 16th career win.
There are several big questions facing Truex's No. 78 team as the 2018 season winds down. All of them are big and complex and cannot be completely answered as they now stand.
First off, Truex's contract expires at the end of this season. There has been talk and speculation Truex might move over to Joe Gibbs Racing, replacing Daniel Suarez in the No. 19 Toyota. Suarez in turn would move to the No. 95 owned by Leavine Family Racing and driven by Kasey Kahne.
Early last week, Furniture Row Racing, owner of the No. 78 team was discussing a possible deal with Truck Series team GMS Racing. If completed, it would see FRR Owner Barney Visser sell FRR's assets to GMS.
The discussions started because the 78 team will lose 5-Hour Energy Drink, its major sponsor.
News reports have said that the team will be running again in the Cup Series in 2019, but it was unclear whether GMS would buy FRR's charter and assets right away or whether the two could form an alliance. Sources said the deal was still being worked on and not yet completed.
If finalized, it would find a way for Visser to keep the No. 78 operation going, as GMS Owner Maury Gallagher's Allegiant Airlines could become a primary sponsor for the car. Both teams declined comment.
There has been at least one additional meeting, but nothing was settled.
President Joe Garone told RacinBoys.com that Furniture Row Racing's top priority is to fill the sponsorship void created by 5-hour Energy's departure at season's end. For several years Visser used his own company and money to fund the team, but said Denver Mattress will no longer be a top sponsor.
Racing Joke: Clint's wife hasn't talked to him for the past week. Last Monday evening they were in the bedroom getting dressed to go to a party.
Would you pass me that tube of lipstick, she asked Clint.
He accidentally picked up a glue stick and handed it to her.
Weekend Racing: The Cup and Xfinity teams are at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The Trucks do not race again until Sept. 14.
Sat., Sept. 8; Xfinity Series race 25 of 33; Starting time: 4 pm ET; TV: NBCSN.
Sun., Sept. 9; Cup Series race 26 of 36; Starting time: 2 pm ET; TV: NBCSN.
Racing Trivia Question: What year did Kevin Harvick win the NASCAR Cup Series championship?
Last Week's Question. How many teams run a Toyota in the Cup Series? Answer. There are seven Toyota teams.
Gerald Hodges is a syndicated NASCAR photojournalist and author. You may contact him by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org