When the smoke finally settled on the hot surface of Auto Club Speedway, Brad Keselowski was the man standing in Victory Lane for the first time in 2015 and the 17th time in his Sprint Cup Series career.
Winning the Auto Club 400 in front of a sold-out crowd, Keselowski punches his ticket to the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
“I’m really proud of everyone on the Wurth Ford team,” Keselowski told FOX. “That’s two [wins for Ford] in the first five races. Both Penske cars in the Chase. Honestly when I was crossing the finish line I was thinking, ‘I just won at one of Roger’s tracks. Roger (Penske, owner) built the speedway and that’s really cool.”
Coming to the white flag, Kurt Busch’s dominatingly fast No. 41 led Keselowski and teammate Kevin Harvick when a burst of smoke appeared in the rear of the field. Greg Biffle was turned into the outside wall and spun to a stop just past the start/finish line.
The caution was not waved as Biffle’s banged-up Ford was able to drive away from the accident scene. Keselowski said he was unaware of the single-car accident.
“I had no idea. I was just looking in front of me,” Keselowski said. “I knew the [No.] 4 and the [No.] 41 (cars) were the class of the weekend. Those cars, on speed, definitely deserved to win. I think we kind of stole one today.”
Harvick became the first driver in Sprint Cup history to start a season with five consecutive top-two finishes as he flew by Busch to steal the runner-up spot.
“What a race,” Harvick told FOX. “Just really happy for the fans and everybody who was here at the racetrack and watching on TV to see a race like that. You just never know how the strategy is going to work out and that you’re kind of on both sides of the fence there as to what you should or shouldn’t do.”
The man who lead each practice session, had the fastest lap in qualifying and led a race-high 65 laps, Busch, was denied victory as Keselowski passed him on the final lap. In just his second race back, he already has two top fives and is inside the top 30 in points.
“We had a great Haas Automation Chevy all day,” Busch told FOX after a disappointing but promising result. “We just got hung out on the yellows at the end. On that last restart I just didn’t get the job done. Brad out-muscled us with four tires.”
Rounding out the top-10 finishers saw Richard Childress Racing teammates Paul Menard and Ryan Newman in fourth and fifth with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.
For Newman, it was a third consecutive top-five finish following a pair of thirds at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.
“We caught a break there with the caution,” Newman told FOX. “Just a good day for us to rebound. When your best running position is the last lap, I guess you can’t be too upset.”
The first caution of the day waved when Gordon made slight contact with David Ragan’s No. 18 Toyota. A spin followed before everyone made their first trip to pit road.
Despite the speed, Hamlin had a pit road penalty late while Kenseth got a bad break from a late caution, which led to a broken axle exiting his pit stall. They finished 28th and 31st, respectively.
NASCAR fans were treated with a fantastic fight for the lead all day between Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Busch and Harvick. Starting first and second, they showed the California crowd what racing is all about.
The series is back in action this week at Martinsville Speedway.