Brad Keselowski is always a threat for the winner’s circle no matter what NASCAR series he competes in, and on Saturday (March 10) in the XFINITY Series, the Michigan native earned his second career checkered flag at ISM Raceway.
The No. 22 car started the race from second position, alongside defending race winner Justin Allgaier. It took roughly 20 laps, but Keselowski surged to the top of the leaderboard, only to finish third in the opening stage.
After more than an hour red flag due to rain, Keselowski was caught speeding on pit, sending the No. 22 machine to the back of the pack. In what seemed like no time, he was back up front, finishing 16th in the second stage, as there was another stoppage for rain with two laps remaining, and Brian Wilson called the driver to pit road.
With 58 laps to go, Keselowski passed Allgaier for the top spot, holding it for 20 circuits before Christopher Bell got by. With 31 laps to go, the top four drivers pitted, and the Nos. 20 and 22 came out side-by-side. Keselowski took the lead and never looked back, picking up his second victory in Phoenix.
“It was a solid team effort,” Keselowski said. “I wasn’t perfect today by any stretch of the imagination, but the car was really strong. Really, really good for about 50-60 laps. The last 20 laps it would fall off pretty good, but the guys made it count.”
Christopher Bell is good, really good.
It took the 23-year-old just five races to get into Victory Lane in the XFINITY Series last season at Kansas Speedway in mid-October. However, 2018 started off poorly, as the No. 20 Toyota got caught up in a lap 11 accident at Daytona International Speedway, finishing 39th, earning one point.
Since then, Bell has recorded three consecutive top-five finishes, starting off with a third at Atlanta Motor Speedway, runner-up last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and now a fourth at ISM Raceway.
Over the past three races, Bell has one stage victory, scoring stage points in all six stages. He has gone from earning one point at Daytona and sitting 30th in the championship standings to earning 142 points in three races, only eight markers behind Elliott Sadler in fourth.
Following Saturday’s race, Bell may be disappointed he didn’t win but is confident nonetheless, as Phoenix is the last stop before the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November.
Other than a few stoppages due to rain, there wasn’t much wrong with this race. Clean air ruled, but there was a lot of passing throughout the field.
The only mechanical failure came on lap 24 when David Starr‘s engine exploded, causing a huge pile of smoke, laying oil all over the racetrack. Ryan Truex said during a television interview with Fox that he had never seen an engine expire like the No. 52 machine.
Phoenix is the second consecutive race in which Starr has had an engine expire, not helping the situation of Jimmy Means Racing. He currently sits 28th in the championship standings.
Rain in the desert?
It only makes sense that if NASCAR is in town, rain would be in the area, even if the race is in the middle of a dry desert. Yes, Dale Earnhardt Jr. picked up his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory at Phoenix in 2015 in a rain-shortened event, but Phoenix is the one place on the schedule that weather shouldn’t be a factor.
The first red flag in Saturday’s DC Solar 200 came out just following the conclusion of the opening stage, in which Allgaier was victorious. The rain remained steady, then drizzled for much of the delay, but it took just over an hour-and-a-half before the green flag could come back out.
There were a total of eight Air Titans and seven jet dryers to help dry the 1-mile track. Also, because the track is in the middle of a desert, it’s easier to dry due to the air temperature.
The rain returned for much of the second half of the second stage, but NASCAR held off throwing the caution until Matt Mills got into the outside wall, halting the event. The track became wetter and wetter as the heat from the spread-out field wasn’t able to circulate around the track, forcing NASCAR to throw another red flag, this time just over a half hour.
You might be able to beat yourself and the competition in racing, but unfortunately no one has yet to beat Mother Nature.
Underdog Performance of the Race
Matt Tifft had a difficult rookie campaign in 2017, competing for Joe Gibbs Racing. However, a move to Richard Childress Racing may have been what the doctor ordered for the Ohio native to compete for a championship.
The 21-year-old kicked off the season with a 19th-place outing at Daytona, following with finishes of 12th at Atlanta and 11th in Sin City. Getting the hang of things here? The No. 2 team was on the up-and-up heading into this weekend’s event, a place at which he had an 11.5 average finish in two career races.
Tifft began the event from ninth position, equaling his best qualifying effort of the season. From the beginning, it was easy to tell the No. 2 car was going to be a factor.
At the end of the first stage, Tifft was in seventh, earning four stage points, his first stage points of the season. After pitting with a few laps to go in stage two, he placed 18th.
However, when the final stage began, Tifft hot track position, passing all the cars that stayed out before the second red flag. For much of the final run, he stayed inside the top five, never falling below seventh.
Saturday’s race could be what Tifft and the RCR crew needed heading into the final race out west.
Double Duty Interlopers
Out of the four Cup Series drivers in the DC Solar 200, Keselowski led 66 laps. Busch went on to win stage two, though he had to pit and could only make it up to third by lap 200.
McMurray made his first XFINITY start since Richmond in 2013, placing fifth. Ty Dillon was a non-factor all day, finishing one lap down in 13th.
“I honestly thought [Allgaier] outdrove me most of the day. He was really strong.” – Brad Keselowski
“Another top-10 finish, so that is something to be proud of. Everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing is working hard, and I think it is showing. We are getting closer and closer.” – Cole Custer
“A P12 finish is our best yet since Daytona, and to tell you the truth, we beat some teams we probably shouldn’t have as an underdog team. It was a pretty cool run for us.” – Kaz Grala
After being an analyst in two of the first three XFINITY races this season, Keselowski got his first shot at Victory Lane on Saturday and was successful.
The victory marks Keselowski’s 37th career series triumph, and dating back to Richmond Raceway last fall, he’s undefeated.
For the first time in a long time, tire wear seemed to play a factor in an XFINITY Series race at Phoenix, with brakes being even more important. The longer a particular run went on, the brakes became awfully shiny, though there were no brake failures.
The XFINITY Series heads out to the far west next weekend at Auto Club Speedway for the final leg of the west coast swing. Kyle Larson is the defending winner of the event, picking up his second career victory at the venue. The green flag for the unsponsored race is scheduled to wave shortly after 5 p.m. ET.