Questionable late-race caution costs Keselowski shot at Homestead win
With 86 laps spent out front, Brad Keselowski led more than anyone in Sunday night’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But he finished third, and as was the case for Keselowski numerous times in 2015, having arguably the best car didn’t result in a trip to Victory Lane.
With a big lead and sailing toward an almost certain win late in Sunday’s 267-lap finale, Keselowski saw his advantage wiped out instantly by a caution for debris on the frontstretch with 10 laps to go.
While there was clearly something spotted near the start/finish line, it appeared as though it was out of the racing groove and below the white line –leading Keselowski’s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, to question if the caution was really necessary.
"I was just trying to understand what it was for," Wolfe told FOXSports.com while standing on pit road moments after the race ended. "I didn’t ever really see what it was for, but I guess that’s just the way it goes. I figured we obviously had a nice lead there and should have been able to cruise into Victory Lane, but I guess it just wasn’t meant to be."
While Keselowski still led on the restart with eight laps to go after fast work by his No. 2 Team Penske pit crew got him off pit road first, the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion was immediately overtaken by Kyle Busch — one of the four drivers in the hunt for the Sprint Cup Series title — who lined up on the outside of Row 1.
Busch’s closest championship pursuer, Kevin Harvick, also found his way by Keselowski moments after the restart.
Keselowski held onto third, good enough for seventh in the final season standings after being eliminated from title contention along with three others in the previous weekend’s race at Phoenix International Raceway.
"We led a lot of laps," Keselowski said. "The last four races we have run pretty strong, maybe not quite as strong at Phoenix as we wanted, but three of the four races we were really strong and we just didn’t have enough to close it at the end.
"I was really proud of my team tonight, really happy with what they were able to give me, and we were able to take a run at it. We just didn’t quite have enough at the end on that final restart to hold those guys off."
Although Keselowski won just once in 2015 — at Auto Club Speedway back in March — it was a strong season for the driver and entire Team Penske organization, which also fields the Fords of six-time race winner Joey Logano.
Keselowski finished his season with 25 top-10 finishes, including nine top fives, in the 36 races. The Michigan native also scored three poles along the way.
"Proud of the effort," Wolfe said. "Coming into this championship Chase we knew we needed to make big improvements on pit road and, man, we’ve really stepped up there. I’m proud of the effort there, and the guys getting us out in the lead on the money stop at the end. We’ve made gains and our cars are fast.
"We have a lot to be proud of going into the off-season. Obviously we don’t have a pile of wins and a championship, but we still feel good about where this race team’s at, and we’ll come back next year and be a little better."
As for the controversial late-race yellow flag, Wolfe has no plans to talk with NASCAR officials about their decision-making.
"It is what it is," he said. "They’re gonna throw them when they want to throw them, and that’ll be it."