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Brad Keselowski Ends Stewart-Haas Racing’s West Coast Dominance With Win At Auto Club Speedway

Brad Keselowski Ends Stewart-Haas Racing’s West Coast Dominance With Win At Auto Club Speedway

by March 22, 2015 0 comments

Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images

By: Hunter Thomas
Twitter: @HunterThomas08

FONTANA, Calif. – Brad Keselowski only led one lap in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway, but it was the lap that earned him the victory over Stewart-Haas Racing who had been so dominate during NASCAR’s West Coast swing.

Heading into the Auto Club 400, Brad Keselowski’s best finish at Auto Club Speedway in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series was 18th, but his last lap pass on Kurt Busch earned him his first victory at the speedway. The incredible finish also marked Keselowski’s fourth top-10 finish out of the first five events of the 2015 season.

“We’ve had some really bad luck here and today we had some pretty good luck, so it all equals out over time, I guess,” Keselowski said. “The last, I think two years here, we’ve had great race cars and everything kind of fell apart on us at the end and you’re left around looking and saying, ‘Well, how did that happen?’ And today we’re kind of looking and saying, ‘How did that happen?’ But in a good way. That’s just how it works sometimes. I’m not really sure I know why and there is maybe a life lesson in there on why you stick to something and you have to believe in everybody around.”

Sunday’s race started out as a race to the finish. The Stewart-Haas Racing teammates of Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch quickly jumped out to about a five second lead early in the event. Throughout the afternoon, there were only two cautions for accidents, and a series of teammates continued to swap the lead. Stewart-Haas Racing had a combined 99 laps led between two drivers, and Joe Gibbs Racing led 100 laps between three drivers.

As the laps quickly dissipated in the Auto Club 400, it was down to Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick for the race win. However, just as the two drivers were about to take the white flag, the caution came out for debris.

During pit stops, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle stayed out, but all of the other leaders came in. Kurt Busch won the race off pit road, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Kevin Harvick’s crew was originally going to take four tires, but when the jack dropped and the crew got to the other side of the car, Harvick took off to salvage a third place finish off pit road.

“They put two tires on and I hit the gas when they told me to go,” Harvick said. “That was pretty much it. Rodney and those guys, they have a lot of information up there. If the caution doesn’t come out for a second time, it’s 100% the right call. You can’t ever know what to plan on so you have to try to keep your track position and do the right thing.”

On the green-white-checkered restart, Greg Biffle quickly got shuffled to the back of the pack, causing multiple cars to make contact with each other exiting Turn 2. The caution came back out after the rear bumper of Kyle Larson’s car flew off and onto the track along the backstretch.

Once again, teams hit pit road, but this time, several drivers had issues. While leaving his pit box, Matt Kenseth broke an axel, and Denny Hamlin who was going to restart third, fell deep in the pack, because of an uncontrolled tire during his pit stop.

“I don’t know,” Kenseth said. “The axle broke leaving the pit – leaving the pit stall. I don’t know. I let the clutch out to go and the axle broke. I don’t know why. I didn’t do anything different than we ever do, so it just broke.”

Kevin Harvick started on the inside with teammate, Kurt Busch on the outside on the final restart. It was Busch who was able to jump out in front of the pack thanks to a push from Paul Menard, who restarted fourth. Brad Keselowski restarted sixth, but by the time the pack exited Turn 2, he was already up to third. Keselowski completed the pass on second place, Kevin Harvick in Turn 4, and on the white flag lap, he muscled his way around Kurt Busch in Turn 2 to claim the lead. Busch tried one last desperate effort to make a move on Keselowski in the final corners, but it just wasn’t enough.

“It looked like we were probably gonna finish sixth or seventh there and then that yellow came out,” Keselowski said. “We came in and pitted and drove up a little bit. And then caught another yellow and thought, ‘Now what do we do?’ So Paul (Wolfe) made the call to come down pit road and put four tires on and when he said that I said, ‘This could either go really good or really bad.’ I didn’t know which one it was gonna be. Some guys stayed out. Some guys took two tires and all kinds of different strategies and on the restart we were able to find our way through the lanes and get to the front there and somehow end up in victory lane leading the last lap. That’s kind of a race car driver’s dream and this is one we’re gonna sit back and go ‘wow’ for a while on.”

Kevin Harvick was able to pass Kurt Busch to finish second. Harvick has now finished first or second in the last eight races. Paul Menard finished fourth, followed by Ryan Newman rounding out the top-five.

“We had a great Haas Automation Chevy all day,” Busch said. “It was fantastic to drive and the way that everybody chipped in on building the car, the pit sequence we just got hung out on the yellows at the end. When do you pit to put four tires on, when do you pit to put two tires on? That last restart I just didn’t get the job done. Brad (Keselowski) out muscled us with four tires.”

Kevin Harvick leads Team Penske’s Joey Logano in the championship standings by 28 points. Martin Truex Jr. is hanging strong in third, only 33 points back.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will visit Martinsville Speedway, the first short track of the season on Sunday, March 29 for the STP 500. Coverage for the event will air live on FOX Sports 1 and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 1 p.m. ET.

Auto Club 400 Results:
1.) #2 Brad Keselowski
2.) #4 Kevin Harvick
3.) #41 Kurt Busch
4.) #27 Paul Menard
5.) #31 Ryan Newman
6.) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
7.) #22 Joey Logano
8.) #78 Martin Truex Jr.
9.) #48 Jimmie Johnson
10.) #24 Jeff Gordon
11.) #43 Aric Almirola
12.) #51 Justin Allgaier
13.) #19 Carl Edwards
14.) #14 Tony Stewart
15.) #17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
16.) #3 Austin Dillon
17.) #5 Kasey Kahne
18.) #18 David Ragan
19.) #10 Danica Patrick
20.) #34 Chris Buescher
21.) #1 Jamie McMurray
22.) #55 Brett Moffitt
23.) #13 Casey Mears
24.) #35 Cole Whitt
25.) #40 Landon Cassill
26.) #42 Kyle Larson
27.) #33 Brian Scott
28.) #11 Denny Hamlin
29.) #6 Trevor Bayne
30.) #15 Clint Bowyer
31.) #20 Matt Kenseth
32.) #16 Greg Biffle
33.) #7 Alex Bowman
34.) #47 AJ Allmendinger
35.) #38 David Gilliland
36.) #98 Josh Wise
37.) #23 JJ Yeley
38.) #46 Michael Annett
39.) #26 Jeb Burton
40.) #32 Mike Bliss
41.) #62 Brendan Gaughan
42.) #83 Matt DiBenedetto
43.) #9 Sam Hornish Jr.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Top-16 Driver Point Standings:
1.) #4 Kevin Harvick
2.) #22 Joey Logano -28
3.) #78 Martin Truex Jr. -33
4.) #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. -61
5.) #2 Brad Keselowski -62
6.) #31 Ryan Newman -63
7.) #48 Jimmie Johnson -66
8.) #5 Kasey Kahne -66
9.) #27 Paul Menard -73
10.) #43 Aric Almirola -87
11.) #47 AJ Allmendinger -88
12.) #13 Casey Mears -93
13.) #20 Matt Kenseth -98
14.) #11 Denny Hamlin -100
15.) #18 David Ragan -101
16.) #1 Jamie McMurray -105

Hunter Thomas
Hunter Thomas is a journalist who grew up in Darlington, S.C. His first motorsports-based endeavor was working as the Public Relations Director at Dillon Motor Speedway in Dillon, S.C., and his journalism start came while he was freelancing at his hometown newspaper, the News & Press while in college.

Hunter has been working within the NASCAR industry since 2010, and throughout the years, he has done everything from PR/Marketing for drivers and teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, to working at Rockingham Speedway. As a journalist, Hunter has covered everything from regional short tracks to NASCAR, ARCA Racing Series, World of Outlaws, Red Bull Global Rallycross, NHRA and much more.

Follow Hunter Thomas on Twitter by following, @HunterThomas08

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