Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion team had nearly everything they needed to win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, except for one key component: luck.
Last week, similar circumstances benefitted the Miller 2 Crew, as race leader Kevin Harvick was flagged for speeding late in Atlanta, allowing Brad to swipe the win. This week, BK was leading comfortably with just two laps to go, well on his way to a third Vegas victory, but his right-front hub assembly broke, causing him to fall back to fifth when the Kobalt 400 checkered flag flew.
“It was something pretty major, because I lost brakes and the car wouldn’t turn,” Brad said immediately after the race. “It just broke, but that’s the way it goes. Maybe we won one this way last week, and maybe we lost it this way this week. It all works out in the end. But either way, I’m really proud of everybody on the Miller 2 Crew to have a really fast Ford Fusion, to be able to run up front, lead laps and be in position to win.”
While he came up just a couple of miles short of back-t0-back wins, the P5 finish earned Brad 48 points, enough to vault him into first place in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings past Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch, who both had issues for the first time under the Ford Performance banner, finishing 38th and 30th, respectively.
Once again, the Miller 2 Crew rolled off in Vegas with a machine to reckoned with. As the reigning race victor and winner of two of the last three Sin City events, BK confidently put the White Lite on the pole and led the first 18 laps of the day.
The first caution of the afternoon flew on lap 18 when Corey LaJoie wrecked. Using the opportunity to switch out the worn rubber, the 2 Crew changed all four tires and topped off the tank, losing the lead to Martin Truex Jr. in the process. Restarting on lap 25 from second, it took only half a lap for the Deuce to reclaim its spot as the race leader. Brad held the top spot until the next caution for Harvick’s blown tire on lap 68.
Pitting for four tires and fuel, Truex’s crew prevailed once more, setting BK up for a fourth-place restart behind teammate Joey Logano, who stayed out, and Jamie McMurray, who took two tires. Logano chose the high line in front of the No. 2, and stacked the field up, dropping Brad back to P9 on the lap-75 restart. Three laps later, he made his way back up to sixth, and on lap 79, he passed both McMurray and Kyle Busch. When Stage 1 ended on lap 80, Kes held the fourth spot, picking up seven valuable points.
Staying out on track during the Stage 1 yellow, he was able to line up third on the ensuing lap 88 restart. Ten laps into the run, Brad passed Kyle Larson for the runner-up spot and held the position until a scheduled green-flag pit stop on lap 125 for a fresh set of rubber, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. In the process, Chase Elliott’s No. 24 crew gained a spot, dropping BK back to third, where he remained until Derrike Cope brought out another caution at lap 152. Completing a full-service pit stop, the 2 Crew produced a stop quick enough to recapture the ground from Elliott, which set Kes up for a P4 restart behind Kurt Busch and reigning Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson, who elected to stay out on the racetrack.
Taking the green on lap 164, he quickly advanced to second, where he remained behind Truex through the four-lap stint to the end of Stage 2. Staying out on track, Keselowski restarted from second place and stayed there until the next set of green-flag stops on lap 210 for tires, fuel and air pressure and wedge adjustments, again losing a spot to Elliott. On a mission to the lead, Kes passed Elliott on lap 231, and hunted Truex down on lap 244 to reclaim the top spot, reminiscent of his effortless pass of Larson for the lead a week prior.
It looked like Brad was once again going to cruise to an easy win, but the final caution of the afternoon on lap 252, brought on by a smoky engine failure on Danica Patrick’s No. 10,threw a wrench in the Miller 2 Crew’s plans. Crew chief Paul Wolfe called for his driver to pit for fresh tires with a handful of laps remaining, and the 2 Crew saved its best stop for the money stop, keeping Kes in the lead.
Restarting with only five laps left, BK built an impressive gap over Truex and was less than three miles away from the checkered flag when it all disappeared. The right-front hub assembly of the White Lite gave way, forcing Brad to limp home with a fifth place finish, edged by teammate Joey Logano for fourth at the line, just after barely missing Kyle Busch’s spinning car off the last corner.
“That’s racing, and that’s why you watch until the end, and you never know what’s going to happen,” Brad said. “It’s frustrating, but you put yourself in position to win and good things will happen. That happened to us last week and didn’t happen this week, so you just pick up the pieces and move on. You just try to make the most of what you can — every day, every second. I was still trying to get the best finish I could and still lucky to come out with a Top 5. We had a great day. We ran up front and led a lot of laps. We were the fastest car at the end and just didn’t come together. That’s part of how racing works.”
While the fifth-place finish was disappointing, as it wasn’t the win it appeared to be, the Kobalt 400 was anything but a loss. The strong display proved that BK is still the man to beat in Sin City, as he led 89 of the 267 laps. Along with points for a P5 result, the Michigan native took home 16 points between Stage 1 and 2. With the huge points day, Brad took over the cumulative standings lead at 132 markers – just one above Larson, who passed BK in the final miles and finished second.
Brad sits in a tie for second with five Playoff Points. Truex earned a lucky seven points by sweeping both Stage 1 and 2 and capturing the win. Kes has earned points in every stage this season and has led laps in every race.
Next up for the Monster Energy Cup tour is the second of three races in the West Coast Swing, this time at Phoenix International Raceway for the Camping World 500. Catch the action live on Sunday, March 19 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX.
MENCS POINT STANDINGS
- Brad Keselowski (132)
- Kyle Larson (-1)
- Chase Elliott (-3)
- Martin Truex Jr. (-5)
- Joey Logano (-13)
- Ryan Blaney (-26)
- Kurt Busch (-39)
- Kevin Harvick (-41)
- Kasey Kahne (-44)
- Jamie McMurray (-46)