Brad Keselowski will be racing for a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship this Sunday at Homestead.
That was the end result of a wild day at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday that saw BK’s spot in the finals threatened by strong runs at the win from Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott. But ultimately it was Matt Kenseth who crossed victorious in the desert, allowing BK, who finished 16th after a rough weekend, to advance to the championship race on points.
“We overcame a lot of obstacles and jumped a lot of hurdles today. I am glad I don’t have to relive this day, that is for sure,” Brad said after advancing. “I am just looking forward to going to Homestead with this Miller Lite Ford team. We probably should have been locked in after Martinsville with the effort we put in that weekend so if this is a little bit of redemption then I am happy for all these guys. We’ve had a good year and they deserve a shot at another championship. We have that now and we will make the most of it.”
The Deuce lacked the speed necessary to compete for a race win in Phoenix that would’ve locked BK into the championship automatically. Instead, the 2 Crew had to their best with what they had, keep the Miller Lite Ford Fusion as clean and free of incident as possible and then hope that one of the four other playoff drivers not already locked into the championship: Hamlin, Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Jimmie Johnson failed to win that automatic entry.
Johnson, the seven-time Cup champion, was a non-factor as a mid-race wreck knocked his struggling No. 48 car from contention. Blaney, who will be BK’s teammate at Team Penske next season, sat on the pole but after leading the first 11 laps never again made it back to the front. But Hamlin and Elliott were factors all day, leaving the 2 Crew on the edge of their seats from start to finish.
Meanwhile, BK scuffled through a fairly uneventful day. The 2 Crew did their best to make adjustments on the Miller Lite Ford, which finished the first segment further back (in 18th) than they’d started the day (16th). A bump from the team’s adjustments after the first segment allowed Brad to move up a bit to 13th, but he still failed to score any stage points.
BK finally started to gain some ground late in the race, and that’s when things got wild. After leading 193 laps and nabbing 19 stage points at Phoenix, Hamlin had a leg up on Brad in points with under 50 laps to go. But with Brad running seventh, Hamlin and the other closest threat for the championship spot, Elliott, got together for some rough racing on the one-mile desert oval.
Elliott clearly had the stronger machine at this point, but Hamlin fought him tooth and nail, and the two eventually made contact that brushed Hamlin against the wall. Elliott moved by and it seemed as though Hamlin would survive, but a few laps later, his tire went down as a result of the earlier contact, Hamlin hit the wall hard and his day was done.
That left Elliott as the lone real threat to the spot. During the ensuing caution, crew chief Paul Wolfe elected to bring the Deuce down pit road for four fresh tires. As a result, Brad feel back outside of the Top 15, where he stayed for the rest of the day. Meanwhile, Elliott eventually grabbed the lead and appeared prime to grab his first career win and send the 2 Crew home empty-handed. But with less than 20 laps to go, Kenseth started to close the gap and he passed Elliott for the lead with 10 to go.
From there, the 2 Crew was in waiting mode, hoping to finish the day without a caution. Things got a little scary during that 10 lap period as the temps in the Miller Lite Ford started to spike, but Brad nursed it to the end and there was no yellow to give Elliott another chance as Kenseth cruised to the checkered flag.
So, despite a middling 16th place finish, Brad’s consistent performance throughout the playoffs locked him into the championship race on points alone and he will race Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick for the championship next weekend at Homestead-Miami.
“This feels a little bit like Christmas. Sometimes you need a little luck on your side. Today we had that. It wasn’t by any means where we wanted to run. We wanted to run up front and have a shot for the win. That wasn’t in the cards. We tried to run the smartest race we could and survive and it ended up paying off in the end.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship race is slated for this Sunday, November 19 from Homested-Miami Speedway. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET on NBC with the green flag for the final race of the 2017 season slated to wave at around 2:45 p.m. ET.