Brad Keselowski earns his first win of the 2018 season at Darlington
Brad Keselowski finally found what he was looking for Sunday night – his first victory of the season and the speed to compete for a championship.
Keselowski grabbed the lead by beating Kyle Larson off pit road and moved out to a sizable advantage on a restart with 19 of 367 laps remaining.
He held off his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano to pick up his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season and locked in his position in the upcoming playoffs.
The win capped off a big weekend for Keselowski, who picked up his first Xfinity Series victory at the iconic track on Saturday.
“I’ve got to give a lot of credit to my pit crew. We were running second and that last stop they nailed it and got us out in the lead," Keselowski said in Victory Lane. "I thought Kyle was really good, and he was flat-out flying. I know how it goes.
"In 2015 we led a bunch of laps and lost it on the last pit stop and today my team won it on the last pit stop. Then it was just about me hitting all my marks and not screwing it up.
"How cool is this winning in Rusty Wallace’s Throwback car, the Southern 500, Throwback Weekend? The Southern 500 has always been a major deal and credit to the whole team that runs the track here at Darlington. They’ve made it even bigger yet."
Larson ended up third, Kevin Harvick was fourth and Chase Elliott completed the top-five.
Rounding out the Top 10 were Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray and Denny Hamlin.
Following the break between Stages 2 and 3, Larson was the first off pit road with new tires and fuel and remained in the lead on the restart on Lap 208.
Larson was followed by Logano, Elliott, Keselowski and Jones. Larson’s decision to stay out at the end of Stage 2, kept Martin Truex Jr. one lap down when the final stage got underway.
On Lap 223, Daniel Suarez slapped the outside wall but continued on without a caution. He eventually made a green-flag pit stop for new tires.
On Lap 230, Jimmie Johnson made his way down pit road under green and said his “engine wasn’t running.” He eventually took his No. 48 Chevrolet into the garage.
With 130 laps to go in the race, Larson held about a 3-second lead over Elliott. They were followed by Logano, Keselowski and Jones.
Around Lap 250, several cars began a round of green-flag pit stops for fuel and new tires. Larson, the race leader at the time, made his stop on Lap 259.
During the stops, McMurray was penalized for a commitment line violation and had to make a pass-through penalty on pit road.
With 100 laps to go and the cycle of stops completed, Logano remained out front with Harvick about 4 seconds behind him. Kurt Busch was third and Larson was fourth.
Larson moved to third on Lap 271 and took over the second position on Lap 273.
With 92 laps to go, Truex complained of a possible loose wheel and also was told something “may be breaking” on his No. 78 Toyota.
Larson moved back into the top spot on Lap 279 as Logano dropped to second.
On Lap 285, Truex finally elected to bring his No. 78 down pit road to have his situation evaluated by his Furniture Row Racing team.
With 80 to go, several of the lead-lap cars began another round of green-flag pit stops, with Kurt Busch, Logano and Harvick among those who elected to pit.
Bowyer hits hard
On Lap 312, just as Larson was about to come down pit road, Clint Bowyer piled into the back of Newman as Newman appeared to also be slowing to head to pit road.
“I don’t know, I guess he must’ve been pitting, he just stopped right in the middle of the race track,” Bowyer said of Newman. “Damn lappers, I don’t know who the No. 99 car is or whatever (Derrike Cope), but I think I lapped him 50-some times, he’s all over the place.”
At the time, that left Larson, Keselowski and Logano as the only cars on the lead lap. Larson was first off pit road among the lead-lap cars and remained out front when the race returned to green with 45 laps left. He was followed by Keselowski, Logano and Harvick.
A caution was displayed on Lap 329 for debris in Turn 2. The lead-lap cars elected to pit again and Larson was first off pit road and back in the lead on the restart with 34 laps remaining. He was followed by Logano, Keselowski, Elliott and Harvick.
Jeffrey Earnhardt spun on Lap 343 to bring out another caution. The lead-lap cars pit again for tires with Keselowski the first off pit road as he, Larson and Logano exited pit road virtually three-wide.
The race returned to green with 19 laps remaining.
Keselowski quickly moved out to a sizable lead as Logano moved into second and Larson dropped to third with 15 laps left.
|11||78||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||367||9.185||30|
|12||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Ford||367||20.689|
|17||21||Paul Menard||Ford||366||1 lap|
|18||38||David Ragan||Ford||366||1 lap|
|19||31||Ryan Newman||Chevrolet||366||1 lap|
|20||34||Michael McDowell||Ford||365||2 laps|
|21||13||Ty Dillon||Chevrolet||365||2 laps|
|22||47||A.J. Allmendinger||Chevrolet||365||2 laps|
|23||88||Alex Bowman||Chevrolet||365||2 laps|
|24||95||Kasey Kahne||Chevrolet||364||3 laps|
|25||6||Matt Kenseth||Ford||364||3 laps|
|26||43||Darrell Wallace Jr.||Chevrolet||363||4 laps|
|27||72||Corey Lajoie||Chevrolet||360||7 laps|
|28||15||Ross Chastain||Chevrolet||360||7 laps|
|29||19||Daniel Suarez||Toyota||358||9 laps|
|30||00||Landon Cassill||Chevrolet||357||10 laps|
|31||52||J.J. Yeley||Chevrolet||350||17 laps|
|32||51||B.J. McLeod||Chevrolet||347||20 laps|
|33||99||Derrike Cope||Chevrolet||346||21 laps|
|34||96||Jeffrey Earnhardt||Toyota||344||23 laps|
|35||24||William Byron||Chevrolet||329||38 laps|
|36||14||Clint Bowyer||Ford||309||58 laps|
|37||66||Timmy Hill||Toyota||268||99 laps|
|38||32||Matt DiBenedetto||Ford||254||113 laps|
|39||48||Jimmie Johnson||Chevrolet||227||140 laps|
|40||23||Joey Gase||Toyota||120||247 laps|
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