Brad Keselowski started on pole and ended up in Victory Lane in the Alsco 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but the race was far from uneventful on the way, with 13 caution flags and a one-hour rain delay for good measure.
“It was kind of an eventful day, Keselowski said after the race. “From the rain and everything that happened there, strategies and the car handling and things going on this week with Roger and the Hall of Fame, but it’s been a great week, and I couldn’t ask for a much better start to our Memorial Day weekend than to bring home a win.”
Keselowski got a great jump to start the race, leaving Tyler Reddick, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch to battle it out behind them. Busch got the spot, but was over a second behind Keselowski until the caution flew for a spinning Brandon Hightower.
It was too early to pit for tires, so teams stayed on track, setting up a battle between Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars Keselowski and Busch. Busch won that battle after some side-by-side grudge racing on what was a wild restart, taking the point and not looking back.
During the first stage, though, Brandon Jones looked to have one of the quickest cars on track. Fueled by confidence coming off his ARCA win at Charlotte Thursday night, Jones raced his way to second before the first stage came to an end, and looked like he might have something for his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate throughout the day.
Busch was able to cruise to the stage one win, and held the lead through pit stops.
Busch jumped out front as soon as the green flag waved, and Stage 2 looked like the race would be all Busch as the No. 18 dominated. Even a caution for a single-car spin for Garrett Smithley didn’t do much to slow the momentum as Busch held off a very fast Cole Custer for the stage win.
After two orderly stages, though, things got wilder in the final 100 laps, with possible bad weather threatening. Keselowski stayed on track after a late stop in the second stage, and found himself battling for the lead with Custer, who was able to drive around the Cup veteran while Busch faded a bit in traffic.
A caution flag for rookie Vinnie Miller closed the gap up again. Justin Allgaier got a strong start to battle with Custer, as Keseloski and Busch duked it out behind them and Christopher Bell raced his way by them both.
And then it rained…for the first time. A brief shower in Turn 2 slowed the action for a few laps, but the track started dry enough to go back to racing without major delay, and when the race got underway again, there was a familiar face at the front as Busch reclaimed the top spot.
The field restarted with 49 laps to go in the race, with the top 11 electing to stay on track while the group behind them pitted for tires. Busch led everyone to the line again, but it was short-lived as Tyler Reddick cut a tire and brought the yellow back out.
This time, a few drivers elected to pit, including Busch, setting up one of his patented runs through the field. But Busch got a little too aggressive trying to do that when the green came out, putting his left-side tires in the infield grass trying to pass Dylan Lupton. Busch’s subsequent spin collected Chase Briscoe, though both would continue on and finish on the lead lap, but Busch’s shot at the win was over.
Again the field lined up for the restart, and again they hardly had time to get up to speed before a chain reaction between Lupton and Ty Majeski brought the caution flag back out. While the field circled the track, the sky opened up and the rain brought out the red flag with 28 laps to go.
The sun resurfaced quickly, and NASCAR was able to get the track dry before any more rain threatened, so the race would conclude its scheduled distance after a delay of one hour and one minute. Of course, the Keselowski-led restart provided some drama, with Daniel Hemric and Allgaier clashing and collecting Jamie McMurray.
On the restart, it was Bell who charged into second after a fierce battle with Custer, Elliott Sadler, and Ty Dillon. Coming to the final two laps, Bell had cut Keselowski’s lead by a full second, to a few car-lengths and closing, but a piece of metal came loose from another car and slowed the action for the 12th time.
Keselowski would have to hold of the charging Bell one more time in overtime, but the restart proved anticlimactic as Bell spun his tires, allowing the No. 22 to pull away. One final incident on the backstretch between Reddick and Majeski meant Keselowski took the yellow flag and the checkers for his second win in 2018. Custer finished second, Bell third, Dillon fourth, and Sadler wrapped up the top five.
Keselowski was one of five MENCS regulars in the race, including Ty Dillon (finished third), Busch (eighth), McMurray (31st) and Elliott (37th, after a transmission failure)
After the debris caution ended his shot at battling Keselowski for the win, Bell said, “I was just heartbroken when I saw that piece of debris fly off those lapped cars. I felt like we were really starting to make some runs there…I was getting the top going pretty good in (turns) one and two. I felt like I was going to have a shot at [Keselowski] if the yellow didn’t come out. Obviously when the yellow came out, I did have a shot at him and just didn’t execute on that last restart.
After a day that saw him running as low as 26th and as high as fourth, Sadler leaves Charlotte with his points lead by 38 over Bell, who picks up a spot this week.