Brad Keselowski recorded back-to-back crown jewel wins for “The Captain” Roger Penske as he and the No. 2 team kissed the bricks on Monday afternoon at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Brickyard 400 fresh off their “Southern 500” win at Darlington. Keselowski worked his way up front through strategy and fresh tires battling Denny Hamlin on the final restart with three to go. Aggressive driving from the Discount Tires Ford Fusion and some hard racing secured the pass and the first Cup Series win for Penske at Indy with 17 wins coming in the running of the Indy 500 for Penske’s Indy car teams.
It was the 26th career win for Keselowski in the Cup Series as he builds the momentum for the No. 2 team heading into the playoffs with back-to-back wins and they are up to 4th on the standings with 19 playoff points, only trailing the “Big Three” of Harvick, Busch and Truex. It was also the first win for the manufacturer Ford at Indy since 1999 when Dale Jarrett kissed the bricks.
Denny Hamlin had the car to beat all afternoon it looked like leading a race-high 37 laps and holding off a charging Clint Bowyer down the stretch. Hamlin was visibly frustrated in his post-race interview and when asked what he would’ve done differently didn’t hold back, “Not have meaningless guys in the back wreck. I don’t know what they’re doing, crashing with a couple of laps to go, multiple laps down. Meaningless. Besides that, all those cautions allowed the guys who took tires and saved their strategy allowed them to come back up there and obviously allowed the 2 (Keselowski) to kind of rough us up there at the end. Very unfortunate, but it’s what happens sometimes.”
Hamlin finished third and still is without a victory in 2018, although he secured his playoff berth a few weeks back locking himself in on points. With a couple off his top tracks coming up in the playoffs including short-tracks from his home state of Virginia, Hamlin will hope to keep his streak going of at least one win in each season since he was a rookie back in 2006. Hamlin was in no mood to talk about building momentum towards the playoffs however, “I don’t even care about the playoffs at this moment. All I care about is not winning this race. It’s one that was big on my list of races I wanted to win and the team gave me the car that was certainly capable of doing that today. Executed flawlessly on pit lane, the strategy was good, had a fast car. Just circumstances. Cautions killed us at the end and allowed those guys to come up there.”
Kyle Busch clinched the regular season championship on Monday as well as he receives the 15 playoff point bonus that comes with it to bring his total to 50 as the number one seed entering the 10-race playoff stretch. Busch won six races and took five stage wins in the regular season to load up on the playoff points. As for Monday, Busch started off as one of the top cars but a pit road penalty where the 18 team entered when the pits were closed took them off strategy and cost them their real shot to win, although they did rebound for a top-ten finish.
Jimmie Johnson secured himself into NASCAR’s postseason on points as did Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman with no winner coming from outside of the top sixteen, both drivers are locked in for the Round of 16 which starts next Sunday in Las Vegas. As for the Brickyard, Erik Jones scored a runner-up finish getting by his teammate Hamlin after Keselowski put the bumper to him for the lead while SHR teammates Kevin Harvick & Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five. Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Ryan Newman all scored top ten finished, but due to their failure to win the race were officially eliminated from playoff contention. McMurray had the best opportunity on a final restart with a starting spot of third, but could not get the job done. The bad news piled up for the Missouri born driver as Chip Ganassi announced officially this week McMurray would not be back in the No. 1 next season as the reported move over of Kurt Busch has been all but confirmed.
The playoff field of 16 is now set heading into the first three races starting with Las Vegas next week then to short-track Richmond and concluding at first time ever run Charlotte Roval road course for the cut-off race. Here’s how the field stacks up with the playoff points each driver will have heading into the first round:
- Kyle Busch: 2,050 points
- Kevin Harvick: 2,050 points
- Martin Truex Jr. 2,035 points
- Brad Keselowski 2,019 points
- Clint Bowyer 2,015 points
- Joey Logano 2,014 points
- Kurt Busch 2,014 points
- Chase Elliott 2,008 points
- Ryan Blaney 2,007 points
- Erik Jones 2,005 points
- Austin Dillon 2,005 points
- Kyle Larson 2,005 points
- Denny Hamlin 2,003 points
- Aric Almirola 2,001 points
- Jimmie Johnson 2,000 points
- Alex Bowman 2,000 points
I am readyto kick off the 2018 NASCAR Playoffs in Sin City next week, but I am fully expecting Kevin Harvick to win and cap off the Vegas sweep in ’18 on the mile-and-a-half track and record his eighth of the season to make a statement right out of the gates.