In the first short-track event of 2017, Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford team kept their Top 5 streak alive in the Camping World 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Kes was solid all weekend and remained in striking distance throughout the 312 miles in the desert, but he never did have a shot at the lead and the win.
“We ran kind of right in that second to fifth range the whole day with the Alliance Truck Parts Ford,” Brad said. “We clawed away. I thought we might have had a shot at getting the win but the 18 car was just a touch better.”
Qualifying his Deuce sixth, it became evident early that the high line was preferred on restarts, something that helped Brad in the opening laps. By the end of the third lap, he advanced to P4, passing Jamie McMurray and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. On lap 11 he overtook fellow Team Penske driver Ryan Blaney for third, and Kyle Larson for second just 10 laps after, right before the first caution on lap 27 when Corey LaJoie wrecked in front of the race leaders.
Using the caution as an opportunity to check tire wear, crew chief Paul Wolfe called BK in to change all tires and fill the tank with Sunoco racing fuel. While servicing, a hangup on the left rear tire slowed the stop to 15.1 seconds, dropping the team back to sixth on the following lap 31 restart. Again using the high line, he passed Blaney and Earnhardt on the opening lap, and McMurray on the next circuit around for third where he remained until the end of Stage 1 on lap 75.
Choosing to pit for routine maintenance, Kes reported that the car was loose, but manageable over the long run. A 13.4-second pit stop allowed the team to hold P3 for the next restart at lap 83. Bogged down on the lower line, Brad lost a spot to sophomore season driver Chase Elliott, but slid in line P4 for 15 laps until passing polesitter and teammate Joey Logano for third. The next yellow flew on lap 117 when a burst tire caused LaJoie to make heavy contact with the wall. Pitting under caution, another slow left-rear tire change dropped the 2 Crew back to eighth. On top of that, radio issues began to plague the team as an open mic line came up in their channel loop.
Restarting on lap 122, BK used the high line to pass Kevin Harvick and Blaney to jump back to P6, before passing McMurray once more the next time by. On lap 140, he reported some positive news, that the radio woes have been fixed, and the annoyance of an open mic was out of the picture.
Riding in fifth to close out Stage 2, he visited the No. 2 pit crew for a full round of service while setting up for a lap 158 restart from P6. Before they even hit the backstretch dogleg, Brad rose two spots while passing McMurray and Jimmie Johnson. The 35-lap green-flag stretch was halted on lap 192 when Matt Kenseth’s tire blew out exiting Turn 4, forcing his No. 20 hard into the wall. Pitting for another set of tires, the ATP crew sent Kes out in fourth, ready to capitalize on the next restart.
When it came on lap 200, BK made good use of his short-run speed, passing Elliott and Larson for second behind race leader Kyle Busch. After a short four-lap stint, the field slowed down once more for the Gray Gaulding and David Ragan wreck. Staying out on track, BK was set for an inside line restart on lap 212, where he swapped a spot with Larson, taking it back the next time by.
Rolling around in second, the 2012 Champion began to report a vibration lap 239. Able to ride it out until the next caution on lap 257, a four-tire, fuel and air pressure adjustment stop allowed the team to analyze the tires, realizing that the vibration stemmed from a missing wheel weight.
Lined up third for the lap 261 restart, Keselowski lost a spot to Phoenix ace Harvick, and held the spot until Logano’s blown tire on lap 306. This time, Wolfe elected to swap only right-side tires, where the 8.0 second stop dropped them to sixth off pit road, but eighth on the restart behind Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr who stayed out on track.
The final green flag of the afternoon in Overtime fashion saw Brad pass three cars to claim another Top 5 in fifth, but with just two miles of ground to make up eight spots, Brad ran out of room and was ultimately edged by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at the line to finish fifth, while Ryan Newman came away as the upset winner.
“We were all real close there,” Kes said. “Whoever got the track position was going to run away. The clean air was so important which was a bit frustrating. There was a lot of parity today and of course the crazy finish there at the end with the yellow coming out when it did and all the different strategies.”
Continuing his streak this year of claiming points in every Stage of race competition, it shows on the standings board. Although losing the top spot to Kyle Larson and his No. 42 team, the six point deficit between them can be made up quicker than ever with the new scoring format.
They’ll have that chance next weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. when the Monster Energy Cup Series drivers compete in the Auto Club 400. As the 2015 winner of the event, Brad certainly knows what it takes for Southern California success. Tune in on Sunday, March 26 at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX to see if he can pull it off once again.