Brad Keselowski captures Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
Las Vegas is a gambling city.
So it was fitting that Brad Keselowski won the Kobalt 400 on Sunday by rolling the dice on fuel, passing Kyle Busch to take the lead for good with just six laps remaining on a wild, wind-swept afternoon at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Busch ended up fading to fourth by the finish, with Joey Logano finishing second and Jimmie Johnson third. Keselowski and Logano gave Team Penske a 1-2 finish.
Keselowski pulled off the win, the second of his career at the 1.5-mile track and his first of the 2016 Sprint Cup season, by overcoming a pit-road speeding penalty earlier in the race and by gambling on fuel at the end.
"This rules package, I love it. In these cars, you can be really fast at the start of the run or really fast at the end of a run — and we had awesome speed at the end of every run," Keselowski told FOX Sports in Victory Lane. "It seemed like we couldn’t put it all together, the way the cautions kept falling. But we got that big, long run at the end.
"We couldn’t get going at first (on the last run) and I thought for sure the 48 (of Johnson) and a couple of others were going to go right by me. But then it started to take off with about 25 to go. I was able to get up to second and then when I got up to the 18 (of Kyle Busch), I saw his car was falling off a little bit and that I had him."
Pole-sitter Kurt Busch led the first 33 laps, but was penalized for being too fast entering pit road on the first pit stop of the day and surrendered the lead to Joey Logano.
Logano led the next 63 laps, and then gave up the lead to Keselowski until the second caution came out on Lap 99 for debris (which turned out to be a water bottle) on the track.
Johnson, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch all opted to take two tires then, while most of the rest of the field took four. The 5.1-second stop enabled Johnson to take the lead for the first time — and he went on to lead a race-high 76 laps on the day, one more than Logano.
But the pivotal moment of the race came after the cars of Regan Smith and Kyle Larson spun to bring out yet another caution with 51 laps to go.
That’s when Logano, Keselowski and Austin Dillon decided to stay out while the rest of the field pitted. With the wind gusting up to 43 miles per hour, kicking up sand from the nearby desert that made it difficult to see at times, all three gambled that they would be able to go a total of 68 laps on their final tank of fuel, plus older tires than the rest of the field.
Todd Gordon, the crew chief for Logano, also said he was willing to take the risk because threatening weather was in the area, making it unlikely in his mind that his driver would be forced to go the full distance.
They ended up making it to the end on fuel, but eventually lacked the speed to beat out Keselowski for the win.
"We had a good car. We led a lot of laps. Brad was just really good on the long run," Logano said. "I tried to hold him off as long as I could but he showed how fast he was getting by me and Kyle and checking out."
Shortly after the field went back to green and Kyle Busch made an incredible move to the outside to go from sixth to first, taking the lead from Logano, the biggest crash of the afternoon occurred with 43 laps remainining when Matt Kenseth got loose, triggering a wreck that also collected Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Carl Edwards.
That set up another restart with 35 to go — this time with Kyle Busch lined up on the outside as the leader, with Dillon behind. Logano lined up on the inside of the front row, with his teammate Keselowski lined up behind him.
And while Busch sailed away on that restart and then held the lead for the next 29 laps, Keselowski kept chipping away at his lead, eventually passing Logano for second and then grabbing the lead for good from Busch with six to go.
The victory broke a 33-race winless streak for Keselowski.
"It’s such a great feeling to get back into Victory Lane," Keselowski said. "It’s been way too long."