Roger Penske has done basically everything there is to do in the motorsports world. Championships in NASCAR and IndyCar, major victories in those series. Coming into 2018 though, two victories were elusive for “The Captain”. After today, Brad Keselowski filled those two spots in the Team Penske trophy case with a victory last weekend at Darlington and now a victory at Indianapolis.
Keselowski took the lead in the final laps to mark his name in Penske history as a winner at Indianapolis, something the likes of Mears, Unser, Fittipaldi, Montoya, Castroneves and others have done before. Erik Jones propelled to second during the final laps earning his sixth top-10 finish of the season. Denny Hamlin, who tied the most laps led in the event with Clint Bowyer, finished third after getting passed by both Keselowski and Jones late. Kevin Harvick and Bowyer rounded out the top five.
Kyle Busch led the initial 10 laps leading up to the first of two competition cautions. Hamlin took the lead and began making strides toward the second competition caution of the evening at lap 15. Hamlin led up until lap 33 when he surrendered the lead to Kurt Busch.
Martin Truex Jr.‘s bad week went from bad to worse during the race when he made hard contact with the outside wall on lap 42. The DNF resulted in his first 40th place finish since Talladega in 2016.
Bowyer took the lead during the restart with five laps remaining in the first stage. He’d earn his first stage victory of 2018 and second career stage victory.
Kyle Busch took the lead during the caution and began making strides as he was looking to lock up the regular season championship, that would come after stage two was complete. The second accident of the evening came at lap 59 when Darrell Wallace Jr. lost his brakes or a tire in an incident that looked eerily similar to his Pocono accident. The two Rick Ware Racing cars were also involved in the incident with David Starr being out of the race.
On lap 68, AJ Allmendinger and Alex Bowman made contact which was putting the No. 88 team on the hot seat with a possibility of missing the playoffs should a new winner arise. Allmendinger’s run for a victory was ended while Bowman limped around the 2.5-mile track finishing 33rd.
The different strategies began forming around the end of the second stage with Keselowski, Bowyer, Hamlin, and others all coming down pit road during the final laps of the second stage. Matt Kenseth wound up with the lead late in the stage and he picked up the stage victory, his first of 2018.
Bowyer retook the lead during the stage ending caution and looked to earn Stewart-Haas Racing their first victory at Indianapolis. On lap 144, as Bowyer was attempting to catch up with Hamlin when a caution came out for what looked like crush panel from another car.
Probably the hardest hit of the night came at lap 155 when Jeffrey Earnhardt went up the track and sandwiched Landon Cassill. Earnhardt’s rear tires went up into the air and then bounced back down. Luckily both drivers walked away from the incident. This set up a late race restart that benefited Keselowski, who was on fresher tires.
Keselowski wasn’t able to blast by Hamlin on the restart but during those final laps, the Jaws theme was playing in the background as Keselowski chomped down the margin. The two made slight contact while running side-by-side but ultimately, Keselowski took the lead and the victory.
Now that the regular season is over, the focus is now on the playoffs for the field of 16. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, and Austin Dillon all made the playoffs via a win while Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson, and Alex Bowman made it via points. Johnson has made the cut every year since the playoff system’s inception, the only driver to have done so.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the first race of round one. With the temperature expected to be over 100*, the on-track action will be even hotter. The South Point Casino 400 is slated to go live on NBCSN at 3:00 p.m. ET.