LAS VEGAS - Martin Truex Jr. passed Brad Keselowski on the last lap to win the Kobalt 400 on Sunday and secure his spot in the 10-race playoff.
Keselowski, the pole-sitter, was trying to defend his 2016 victory in the Kobalt 400, and had pulled away from the field on the final restart with nine laps remaining. Keselowski also won last week's race, at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
But he appeared to have an issue on the closing lap, allowing Truex to close the gap and make the pass. Truex swept all three stages. Keselowski said something major broke and he lost his brakes.
"I felt like the race didn't play into our hands," Truex said. "We got a little bit lucky there. That's why you fight until the end."
Danica Patrick's blown engine brought out the caution on Lap 253 of a scheduled 267. Keselowski beat Martin Truex Jr. off pit road.
FIGHT: Kyle Busch went after Joey Logano on pit road after the race. Busch was pulled away by members of Logano's crew and had a bloodied forehead as NASCAR officials escorted him from the scene. Busch hand Logano got tangled on the final lap. Keselowski said on pit road he may have caused the crash, since he had slowed considerably on the track and Busch and Logano were trying to get by.
STAGE 1: Brad Keselowski dominated the first 80 laps, the first scoring stage, of the race as he steadily eked away from the pack. By the 50th lap, he owned a 1.63-second advantage over Martin Truex Jr., who started the race next to pole-sitter Keselowski on the front row. Just three laps later, that gap became 2.35 seconds.
It took Keselowski less than 15 laps to pass Timmy Hill, who started on the 20th row. Hill’s crew soon received a penalty for having an uncontrollable tire in its pit area.
But Keselowski’s fortunes changed when Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Ford blew a tire just past the start/finish line on Lap 70. He smacked into the wall hard, his cabin filled with smoke and he did not exactly get out of the vehicle quickly. He put his window net down - signaling he was OK - but drivers are not allowed to exit their cars onto the track surface without the medical team present unless they are in immediate danger. After being released from the infield medical area, Harvick said, “I’m fine. Blew a tire.”
Harvick, who was conquering all at Atlanta Motor Speedway last weekend before incurring a late speeding penalty in the pits, elaborated a few minutes later while sitting in a golf cart in the infield: “It started vibrating about four or five laps before it blew out, and I was just trying to ride it to the end of the stage … the worst part was the medical response; it took them forever to get to the car. I thought we made that better, but obviously we haven’t … it either just cut the tire, or came apart and melted the bead.”
Truex took advantage of the caution by getting four fresh tires on the ensuing pit stop, while Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray emerged out of the pit first and second by only getting two tires. Truex, who was running second late at Daytona before running out of gas, zipped out to the front and kept a cushion of more than two seconds to beat everyone to Lap 80, and the first-stage win.
Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, Keselowski and Chase Elliott—who was leading late at Daytona before running out of fuel, too—rounded out the top five in the stage.
STAGE 2: On the 152nd lap, eight before the end of Stage 2, Derrike Cope slipped coming around Turn 3 as Truex was nursing a three-second advantage over Elliott. When the caution flag was waved, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch stayed out on the track and took the first and second positions when the race resumed.
Truex and Keselowski came out of pit stops behind Johnson and Busch, but that did not last long as Truex again took over the lead, ahead of Keselowski and Kyle Larson to the stage flag. That’s how it finished, and Truex had captured the entire 20 championship points for the two stage triumphs.
“I really do like these big race tracks,” Truex said from his car to an announcer after his second stage win.
LAJOIE OUT: On the 18th lap, Corey LaJoie’s No. 83 Toyota flew into the outside wall on Turn 2 and, with heavy smoke trailing the entire way, came to a standstill on the inside of the track. Smoke enveloped the car. That ensuing caution created the first pit opportunity, which Kyle Busch used to improve his spot by four places. Rookie Erik Jones, who had been running 10th, fell back to 16th out of pit road. LaJoie, from Concord, N.H., was checked out in the infield care center and released after about five minutes. His BK Racing rig wasn’t so lucky. No. 83 was listed as BTW—or Behind The Wall, where his mechanics hustled to repair it—and given five minutes to return to the track. He did not return.
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