LAS VEGAS — Sunday’s Kobalt 400 shaped up as a two-man show even before the green flag dropped at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
After a weekend in which Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski pretty much dominated every practice and qualifying, Sunday’s race was no different.
Truex passed Keselowski for the lead with two laps to go and ended up completing a sweep of all three stages with the race win. This came after Keselowski started from the pole, with Truex starting alongside him on the front row after the two were fastest in Friday qualifying.
In Sunday’s showdown, Keselowski’s car appeared to lose some power shortly before Truex made the winning pass and fell to fifth by the finish. Kyle Larson moved up to second, followed by Chase Elliott and Joey Logano as Kyle Busch wrecked behind them all.
Truex admitted that he didn’t think he was going to win after Keselowski beat him off pit road and then initially pulled away on the final restart with 10 laps to go. And he said he wouldn’t have if Keselowski hadn’t had some kind of problem.
“It was just one of those deals,” Truex said. “I’ve been on the other side of them many times. Brad took advantage last week (at Atlanta ) of Kevin Harvick’s (pit-road speeding) mistake to win. Today, he was on the other side of it.”
Keselowski tried to take it in stride.
“That’s racing and that’s why you watch it until the end. You never know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Boy, that turned out to be the truth on Sunday — and in more ways than one.
Shortly after Truex took the win, Kyle Busch went after Logano on pit road after the race — angered by the fact that he believed Logano deliberately wrecked him coming to the checkered flag.
“It obviously wasn’t anything intentional, but obviously he thinks that,” Logano said. “So I don’t know. We’ll get by.”
Busch, who left the scene of the post-race pit-road incident with a bloody gash in his forehead, vowed to get even down the road.
“I got dumped. He flat out just drove straight in the corner and wrecked me,” Busch said. “That’s how Joey races so he’s going to get it.”
Danica Patrick’s engine blew in her No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford with 16 laps to go, setting up a frenetic final round of pit stops followed by a restart with 10 to go.
Naturally, Keselowski and Truex were the first two cars of pit road. As the leader, Keselowski chose the outside line and Truex lined up on the inside.
But after racing side-by-side briefly, Keselowski got out front and led eight laps until getting passed by Truex with two to go.
There was some furious racing for positions behind Keselowski and Truex, as Larson, Elliott, Kyle Busch and Logano sliced and diced over the final laps before sorting out who would finish where behind the two dominant cars. That was when Logano and Busch tangled.
There weren’t a whole lot of other incidents during the race.
Kevin Harvick suffered through a frightening moment toward the end of Stage 1, losing a right-front front tire and clobbering the frontstretch SAFER barrier.
Harvick, who came into the third race of the season leading the Monster Energy points standings, was coming through the frontstretch tri-oval when the right-front tire let go, sending his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford hard into the outside wall.
Fortunately, Harvick was able to walk away from the accident.
“It started vibrating about four or five laps there before it blew out, and I was just trying to ride it to the end of the stage there. Obviously, I didn’t make it,” said Harvick, who added that he was fine after being checked out and released from the infield care center.
That paved the way for some different strategy plays at the end of the first stage.
Logano assumed the lead by staying out, but it was the wrong call. Even though there were only six laps left in Stage 1 by the time they restarted the race, Logano quickly dropped like a rock through the field. In two laps, he went from first to 14th, then to 16th.
Truex, however, was flying on four fresh Goodyears. He surged back to the front and won Stage 1 going away. He won Stage 2 as well, leading a race-high 150 laps of 267 on the day overall — while Keselowski led 89.
In the end, the race result came down to Keselowski losing power and Truex being right there to take full advantage of it. Truex admitted that he thought he was headed for a runner-up finish after Keselowski had taken the lead following the final restart and held it for the next eight laps.
“I really felt that the race was over at that point,” said Truex, who was slowed himself slightly over the final few laps by a track-bar problem in his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota. “I felt like our two cars were pretty equal for the most part for most of the day. I felt like we were better on the shorter runs and he was better on the longer runs.