NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Matthew T Thacker / NKP)

Thinkin’ Out Loud – Brad Keselowski Cashes in With Late-Race Pass to Win at Las Vegas

Who’s in the headline – It had been 33 races since Brad Keselowski visited Victory Lane. Keselowski took the checkered flag first in Fontana last year in the fifth race of the season. On Sunday, he led the race three times but only led a total of 24 laps. The win put a third different manufacturer in Victory Lane in 2016.

What happenedKurt Busch started on the pole and led the race until another idiotic competition caution. Denny Hamlin was first off of pit lane and led after the restart until Joey Logano made an on-track pass for the lead. A green-flag run ensued and Jimmie Johnson took over the lead when a second restart occurred from a debris caution for an apparent water bottle. Logano made a brief pass for the lead on Lap 132, but Johnson rebuffed him and held onto the point through another round of green flag stops.

Another debris caution happened just after Logano took the lead from Johnson on Lap 177, and he held onto the point until an accident in turn two saw Kyle Larson and AJ Allmendinger get together. Matt Kenseth held the point for six laps after the restart from that caution before he lost the top spot to Johnson. Another caution gave the lead back to Logano.

(Photo: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP)
With the new aero package, there were 20 lead changes on the day, up two from last year. Additionally, the margin of victory was approximately one second shorter than last year, with Keselowski beating Logano by .6 seconds.(Photo: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP)

On the penultimate restart of the race, Kyle Busch made a bold move to sweep past the two Team Penske teammates at the front of the pack. Busch held onto the lead after a caution flew for a big accident that took out Kenseth and Chase Elliott. Busch looked to be headed to victory, but as the laps wound down, Keselowski chased him down and passed him with six laps to go then pulled away for the win.

Why you should care – The new aero package was designed to make better racing. The ability to push hard at the beginning of a run or conserve until the end would allow drivers to run down a leader and make a pass. While Atlanta didn’t have as much activity at the point as fans hoped, Las Vegas featured three different runs by cars from second to the lead during green-flag runs, including the decisive run by Keselowski to chase down Busch and pass him for the race win.

The teams may be gaining back some of the downforce that they have lost, but the racing has been better than the past few years. Assuming the sanctioning body stays on top of the gains that teams make and continues to tweak the package to keep taking the downforce away, the racing should continue to trend in a positive direction.

What your friends are talking about – Try as some folks might to tell you that the sport is trending in a positive direction, the metrics continue to say the opposite. TV ratings for Atlanta were low. 27 percent lower than the same race in 2015. The 4.1 final overnight rating is the lowest for the second race of the season since Fox began broadcasting the sport in 2001. While the ratings are down, the race was still the highest rated sporting event of the weekend, .9 higher than the Warriors/Thunder game on ABC which drew a 3.2 rating.

The weather was a big story this weekend. Rain in the desert delayed the race. An even bigger story was the wind. There were gusts in the low 40s and the wind was a major factor in the handling of the cars. Teams had damage to pit boxes, umbrellas and car covers. Photographers and media folks were sandblasted for the entire day and their equipment surely took a beating as well.

Tony Stewart was at Las Vegas this weekend and met with the media. There is no timetable in place yet for his return. Until he returns, Brian Vickers and Ty Dillon will split the No. 14. Dillon will drive all races when Bass Pro Shops is the primary sponsor while Vickers will pilot the ride for the rest.

(Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)
Brian Vickers will continue to be in the No. 14 car in races that Bass Pro Shops is not the sponsor. When Bass Pro is on the car, Ty Dillon will pilot the No. 14. (Photo: Nigel Kinrade / NKP)

Speaking of Stewart, the Tulsa County Sheriff has wrapped up their investigation of the incident at the Chili Bowl involving an off duty sheriff’s deputy and the three-time Cup series champion. The altercation went viral on YouTube before it was discovered that the gentleman was a peace office. The statement released by the sheriff said that the investigation into the incident has been concluded and handled according to policy. Any discipline meted out to the deputy was not revealed.

Hendrick Motorsports might be even harder to beat in 2017 and beyond. The company is not looking to replace their agreement with Stewart-Haas Racing. While they won’t be making as many engines and chassis, they will not be releasing any employees. Rick Hendrick shared that the organization has been running at full capacity to fulfill their obligations to HScott Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and SHR. They anticipate refocusing the energies of some employees from their lease program to research and development. The end result is HMS pushing the bounds further than they currently do thanks to greater efforts in development.

Who is mad – Kenseth is beginning to look like Stewart of 2015 in the “Who’s Mad” category. Stewart could have been in this category nearly every week last season and Kenseth is on pace to do it every week this year. This week Kenseth was involved in the wreck with Elliott on lap 225 which knocked him out and resulted in a 37th-place finish.

Larson was a pre-race favorite going into Atlanta but ended the event with a 26th place finish, three laps down. Sunday was another disappointing race with Larson spending half of the race clawing his way to the top 10 only to have a pit road speeding penalty drop him back into the 20s. He was then involved in an incident with Allmendinger. He followed that with another incident with Regan Smith and a 34th place run.

Vickers is filling in for some of the races in the No. 14 car and hoping to take equipment that has contended for championships to some strong finishes. Unfortunately for Vickers, that didn’t happen at Las Vegas. Following a 26th-place run at Daytona, Vickers was in the top 10 midway through the race and looking to move back up when the rear gear on his ride failed. With a limited number of chances to prove he can still get it done in a race car, Vickers can’t afford to be having failures derail his runs.

Who is happy Austin Dillon scored his third top 5 of his career at Las Vegas. As he begins his third full-time season in the Cup series he is feeling like he is ready to have a breakout year. Mile and a half tracks have been his forte so it isn’t surprising to see him run well at Vegas. Dillon ran ninth at Daytona and 11th at Atlanta. The No. 3 is knocking on the door and just might break through to the Winner’s Circle this season.

Ryan Blaney qualified 14th for Sunday’s race and never ran below that point throughout the race. His sixth-place finish is his second-best run of his career and his best this year. Carrying the banner of the Wood Brothers in his Penske ride is shining a spotlight on the young driver but he is thriving to this point of the year.

Kasey Kahne has been under the pressure of the supposed “Hendrick Test Car” for years. He hasn’t won a race since Atlanta in 2014 and only scored three top-5 finishes last season. After a 23rd-place run at Atlanta, his first top 10 of the season has to have him feeling positive heading to Phoenix where he has a win, five top 5s and eight top 10s.

When the checkered flag flew:

Brad Keselowski scored his 18th career Cup series win at Las Vegas. It was his 236th start.

Keselowski is ties with Geoffrey Bodine, Neil Bonnett and Harry Gant for 44th on the all-time wins list.

This is Keselowski’s second career win at Vegas in eight starts.

Joey Logano finished second for his best run of 2016.

This is Logano’s second career top 5 at Vegas.

Logano has five career runner-up finishes. He is tied with nine other drivers for 83rd on the all-time list.

Jimmie Johnson finished third on Sunday for his 161st podium finish of his career.

This was Johnson’s second top 3 of 2016.

This is Johnson’s sixth career podium at Vegas.

Ryan Blaney was the Rookie of the Race thanks to his sixth place finish.

Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski are one win away from locking into the Chase. The remaining drivers who would make the Chase based on points and their point position:

Kyle Busch

Kevin Harvick

Joey Logano

Kurt Busch

Carl Edwards

Martin Truex, Jr.

Austin Dillon

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Kasey Kahne

Ryan Blaney

Aric Almirola

Jamie McMurray

What is in the cooler

The new aero package had its second run at Las Vegas. 11 different leaders traded the lead 20 times, with four on-track passes for the lead. Racing was again all over the track behind the leaders and tire management actually came into play. The racing at Vegas was above average from the last few years and a late race pass for the lead added excitement. In the end the race wasn’t spectacular but it was worth four cold Bonanza Brown Ales from Tenaya Creek Brewery.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – The second weekend of the West Coast Swing takes place at Phoenix International Raceway. Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. ET. on Fox. The race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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About Mike Neff

Mike Neff
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

33 comments

  1. Avatar

    ” This week Kenseth was involved in the wreck with Elliott on lap 225 which knocked him out and resulted in a 37th-place finish.”

    Love it, typical! Kenseth does Kenseth in again, nothing new. Somehow it is never fully explained as to what he did to himself, and yet Chase is dragged in like it he had something to do with Batty Matty’s misfortune. Why can’t the sentence read, ‘Matt Kenseth lost control of his car and collected Chase Elliott in the process’?

  2. Avatar

    Lots of entitlement laps given away via the wave around rule. A good week for those that sucked to game the rules for a lead lap finish that they didn’t deserve. I don’t even care who does well and who doesn’t and those gift laps still annoy the hell out of me.

  3. Avatar

    Even more pathetic coverage by the “one car channel”. Zoomed into the leader for the last few laps while
    real racing was going on behind him. When will FS1 get a director who is not into the aesthetics and learn to
    follow the racing? And, they wonder why TV ratings are plummeting? Thank goodness MLB is fast on the way!

    How is karma treating you Matt?

    • Matt

      Karma has been good to me lately though with temps possibly in the 70s here this week I hope to get my bike-ma back on. But for the record I haven’t written this column for over a year. It’s Mike Neff’s deadline now. I’ll be back tomorrow….if I figure out something to write about. Ya’ll feel free to shout out any suggestions. It’s a buck dancer’s choice my friends….

  4. Avatar

    The elephant-in-the-room question has to be asked…

    How much of the sagging ratings are due to Jeff Gordon’s retirement, how much due to Tony’s extended absence, and how much due to Brian Frances continued destruction of the sport?

    Jr. is 41 years old and doesn’t have that many seasons left in him. How far will the ratings fall when HE retires, or will NA$CAR find a way to prop him up in the car untii he keels over?

    All the trending indicators of this sport are DOWN. The aero package may be an improvement, but it is too little, too late?

    • Avatar

      AND…….Fox rarely shows this new found racing brought about by this years low down force package. The lead car running by itself is much too important and exciting.

    • Avatar

      I was thinking the same thing. Jeff Gordon has to be the second most popular driver, so I too wonder how much his retirement has an effect on the ratings.

  5. Avatar

    i sure wished i could pick the winning lottery numbers like i’m able to switch over to the race broadcast to see the final 5 laps of the race. 2nd weekend in a row i did that.

    watch first 10 min, saw the crazy winds, then went back to what i was doing. 3 pm start times never keep my interest cause i’m typically involved in something else by time the races start.

    wonder who will be fined this week.

    • Avatar

      Janice, I watched the first 7 laps and then actually came back for about the last 12 -14 laps. I keep thinking “come on, get down to the last two”….. LOL…. in reality that is quite sad.

  6. Avatar

    What was Kyle’s excuse? I’m sure he had one. It’s never his fault. Racers in Cup are different than the other two series. He doesn’t have to beat Morgan Shepherd.

    • Avatar

      Sorry Donin, there were no excuses from Kyle, no whining, just disappointment. Now please tell me when you will stop your whining about Kyle. Seems to me you are the one with the “issues” here, not the Champ.

      • Avatar

        I’m not the only one. Someone told me he said the car had “a vibration since the tire change.” But, like always, the crew did a great job all day. Right!

  7. Avatar

    Thank Gosh for Dish Network and the Hopper. FF times 60 thru that snooz fest and got to last 20 laps pronto.
    My opinion to all you feren car haters, Kyle’s pass on the last restart left little doubt what driver has the most talent in NA$CAR.

    • Avatar

      Why is the narrative by some that whenever a pass is made Kyle Busch is the only one who does it “the best”? It is quiet funny. He is the only one who passes, he is the only one who starts in the back and marches forward quickly…blah, blah, blah. He seems to be the only one worthy of being on the track and all just pale in comparison according to some. Come on people! It is a funny mess of blatantly biased, false web of tall tales that won’t die. My observation.

      • Avatar

        Oh and before I get blasted by the comprehension challenged the dig, goof and observation is on the few of his fanboys.

        • Avatar

          Huh???? Slow down and carefully think these ideas of your out completely. And, don’t even try to say I am comprehension challenged. I’ve only been watching this “sport” since 1974 and I think the TV coverage, while there is a lot of it, basically sucks.
          And, after the Xfinity “race” I watched Saturday, I am done with that series. It used to be a good show but now the races suck. I wonder why………..no, wait, I know why.

      • Avatar

        Well Kyle does win alot of Xfinity races. That must make him great right?

  8. Avatar

    Hey look the link from Jayski works!

    • Avatar

      I don’t know what has changed but the Frontstretch link won’t even connect from my office anymore, though all my other links work just fine. I’m wondering if FS went with the lowball internet provider and the service has suffered as a result.

  9. Avatar
    Biff Baynehouse

    Congrats to Brad Keselowski & the #2 Miller Lite crew, AND Joey Logano & the #22 Pennzoil crew AND to everyone at Team Penske, Roush Yates Engines, Ford Performance on the P1 – P2 at Las Vegas! And Kudos to Ryan Blaney Racing & the #21 Wood Brothers Racing, Motorcraft and Quick Lane Racing crews on the P6! Great to see the Team Penske (& Wood Brothers) Fords dominant at the first true intermediate track. LV results bode very well for the rest of the season!
    The low downforce package works & #2, in the final 10 laps at LV, is the proof in the pudding! Yes, he caught & passed #18, but prior to that, he also caught & passed his teammate (#22). And all within the final 10 laps! Definitely a VERY conclusive positive step in overcoming the dreaded intermediate track aero-push!
    Comp caution & no few than 2 mystery cautions were disgraceful & completely unnecessary! Between testing, practice & qualifying the majority of these teams had how many hours of green track time prior to Sunday? Something like +/- 8 hours of shake down time? Pfft! If they didn’t have a handle on their tire wear prior to the race, a comp caution is NOT going to help anything! Total BS!
    Someone please send DW a memo stating Austin is no longer a rookie! Nor is KyLar! Ryan Blaney & Chase Elliot are …& are also two if the most impressive rookies I have seen in a good while. They posses top notch driving skills, talent & sensibility. As does Chris Beuscher, unfortunately the Love’s #34 Ford does not have the pace of he #21 & #24. One of these two will win before Austin or KyLar, wait for it!
    Go Geoff Bodine!

    • Avatar

      They keep trying to get you to think that Kyle Larson is a newbie, as he was the first, second and third coming according to them, and they did not let you forget it! So far he is not and I don’t see it anytime soon.

  10. Avatar

    I’ve been wondering how racing-reference.info would indicate the drivers’ winnings this year and they don’t have any figures.

    There was a release of the figures for the Daytona 500 this year. Hamlin got $1,507,592 which was less than Logano’s last year of $1,581,453. Truex got $1,201,998 this year and Harvick last year got $1,157,470. The winner got less and second got more!

    Last year J.J. Yeley got $273,790 for 40th, less than Matt DiBenedetto’s $297,128 this year. Last year Brad K got $318,056 for 41st.

    NA$CAR said the figures were wrong and the teams would get the proper numbers. Right!

  11. Avatar

    On the main page it indicates there are 29 comments. I have only been able to see the first 4 since yesterday morning. It’s the same on both my home computer and work computer. The date at the top left hand side of the website still indicates it’s Monday March 7th.

    Very frustrating. I am mainly posting this comment to see if it makes a difference for me being able to see more than 4 comments.

    • Avatar

      Yep now I can see all the comments. That’s pretty freaky.

      • Avatar

        This issue has been mentioned by a good handful of regulars in the comments section of many articles with no response from the staff.