The hottest driver in the sport stayed hot on Sunday as Brad Keselowski landed the first blow in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs by winning the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The victory, which came in overtime, was the third in a row for Keselowski and assured him a berth in the second round of the 10-race, 16-driver playoffs.
“To start off the playoffs with a win is really strong,” the Michigan native said. “Then three in a row and all that great stuff. It’s a testament to this team here.”
In the history department, Keselowski handed legendary team owner Roger Penske his 500th victory across all racing series.
“Five hundred wins today,” Keselowski said. “Huge day for The Captain (Penske).”
To get the victory, Keselowski had to survive a late-race wreckfest that produced a large handful of restarts.
“We nailed pit stops and restarts when it counted, and that put us in position,” Keselowski said. “Those restarts were the key.”
Playoff drivers Kyle Larson of Chip Ganassi Racing and Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing filled out the podium. Joey Logano of Team Penske and Ryan Blaney of Team Penske finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
The second round of the playoffs begins Oct. 7 at Dover, Del., after two more races. By that time, four of the 16 contenders will have been eliminated.
Keselowski will not be one of them.
Defending Cup Series champion Truex claimed the Stage 1 victory Sunday. Keselowski won the second stage.
It was a tough day for championship contenders:
—Kevin Harvick in the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet — who started the race tied for points lead with Kyle Busch — blew a tire and slammed the wall on Lap 148. Caught up was Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones, who started the race from the pole. Both cars were forced to retire.
“It’s like Russian roulette every time you put these piece-of-(garbage) tires on. One time it’s tight, one time it’s loose, one time they’re blistered,” Harvick said.
—Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports was knocked out of the race when he got caught up in a spin by non-playoff driver Jamie McMurray with 56 laps to go. Elliott started the race eighth in points.
“Had a really good car today,” Elliott said. “Just barely clipped him.”
Potentially worse, Elliott sustained a shoulder injury in the wreck.
—Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing wrecked his car beyond repair with 21 laps to go. He started 13th in points. “Tried to get more than the car was capable of handling,” Hamlin said.
—Hendrick drivers Alex Bowman and seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson both had late-race problems with tires, walls and contact during the final 12 laps.
—Kurt Busch of SHR was crashed out with two laps to go.
—Field Level Media