Labor Day Weekend, summer is winding down and the NASCAR Playoffs are inching closer. After an off week the Monster Emery Cup Series returned to action in Darlington, South Carolina for Throwback Weekend and the 69th running of the Southern 500.
Kyle Larson dominated the majority of the race starting from the second position and going on to lead 284 of 367 laps and sweeping both stages before one final restart cost him his first win of the 2018 season, and first with the new Chevrolet Camaro ZLI body. It’s the fourth time in Larson’s career where he’s led 200+ laps in a race and each time failed to secure the victory.
As for the eventual race winner, Brad Keselowski, he did a great job of hanging on and staying on pace with the No. 42 through the long green flag runs to remain on the lead lap along with fellow Team Penske driver Joey Logano.
On the second to last restart, Brad was able to gain track position from Logano starting from just behind the 42 trailing him when the final caution flew before the final restart on lap 348. Keselowski’s team nailed the final pit stop and the No. 2 won a drag-race to the line on pit road over Larson while maintaining the pit road speed limit. Keselowski controlled the final restart, pulled away from Larson whose car struggled being far too loose on the short run, and secured the first win for “The Captain” Roger Penske at Darlington since 1975.
After securing his first win at the track on on Saturday night in the Xfinity Series race, Keselowski built on the momentum to cash in for the big race on Sunday at “The Lady in Black”. The fourth weekend sweep of his career and it was great to see the Throwback Rusty Wallace Miller Lite Genuine Draft paint scheme back in victory lane.
“The 42 was really strong. I felt like whoever came off pit road first at the end was going to win the race. My team nailed the last pit stop. We stayed in position the whole race with great strategy to keep us from falling back. We didn’t have the long-run speed we wanted, but the short runs were great, and we were there when it counted.”
After Brad, Joey and Larson, Kevin Harvick & Chase Elliott rounded out the top 5. Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray & pole-sitter Denny Hamlin scored top-10 finishes. Hamlin and Aric Almirola also secured a playoff position on points with just one race remaining in the regular season. Meanwhile seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson struggled at a track he’s usually great at despite some early speed with issues and an eventual engine failure to finish 39th. Jimmie sits 87 points ahead of the cut-off spot holding the lead over teammate Alex Bowman, but only holds an 19-point cushion over his teammate and a surprise winner at The Brickyard next weekend could send one of the Hendrick Motorsports teams packing to cost them a playoff berth.
Keselowski earned the 25th win of his career, but also one of the biggest of his career snapping a 29-race winless streak and earning a landmark win in the Southern 500. Crew Chief Paul Wolfe made the calls early in the race to keep the No. 2 hanging around the 42 early in the race when he was lapping the field and compared the win to the Daytona 500. Especially at this time. A win right before the playoffs and 5 crucial playoff points jumps Keselowski up in the standings to 5th behind the “Big Three” and Clint Bowyer with a win and 9 playoff points. The pit crew came through in the clutch and a crown jewel win for the No. 2 team will build confidence for this team to go and contend for another championship.
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