For the second straight Sprint Cup Series event, Brad Keselowski would claim the checkered flag first as he held off Kyle Larson and Jeff Gordon at the end of the MyAFibStory.com 400 to score the victory in the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. As a result, Keselowski will automatically advance to round two.
“Obviously we had a great car,” the driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford commented in victory lane. “These Fords have really come together for a strong Chase run. It was a crazy day. I’m not sure that I know about all that happened. We caught a little bit of a break when the yellow came up in the pit cycle, but helped us jump up there a couple spots.”
A pair of cautions with approximately 30 laps to go (Carl Edwards’ flat tire, Aric Almirola blowing a motor, Clint Bowyer up into the wall) would set up a pair of late restarts, resulting in close racing between both Larson and Kevin Harvick. Larson and Harvick would battle side-by-side with 16 laps to go when Keselowski would split them both through the middle to take the lead.
The caution then flew with 10 laps to go for Danica Patrick getting in the wall after contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. On the final restart, Keselowski was able to escape the field and score his fifth victory of the 2014 season.
“I saw Kevin and Kyle racing each other really hard and just waited for the right opportunity and just glad that it stuck,” Keselowski said. “Paul and the whole 2 team did a great job. The next two weeks are going to be a lot of fun without having to worry. We’re having fun with it. Really proud of our team. That was awesome.”
Jeff Gordon would get by Larson in the closing laps to grab second for his 18th top 10 finish of the 2014 season.
“That’s just two guys that were wheeling it. Really proud of Kyle Larson – wow, what a talent,” Gordon said. “We had a good car, the whole team effort was really solid. That’s a great way to start our Chase. We were in the top three or four all day long and to come home second, couldn’t be more happier to start the Chase like this.”
Larson would hold on to finish third despite a tire rub late due to contact with Keselowski under caution as Keselowski was cleaning off his tires, and contact with the outside wall late in the race. Larson had to start the race in the back after a crash during practice forced him to a back-up car.
“Lots of things that I could’ve done better on the restart,” Larson said. “That was a great run! Man, I was so close and really out there. Battling with Harvick allowed Brad to get by us and just couldn’t get back to Brad. But man, that was a great race. Shows how strong this team is with this being a back-up car.”
Joey Logano slipped by Harvick in the late going to cross the line in the fourth spot as the motor blew up.
“I got lucky, actually. I got a big piece of debris on the grill and it brought my car to life,” Logano commented. “It’s amazing how much it helps the handling of the car. I was able to get another spot out of it, but all the fluid is out of it and it just blew up right there at the line. Just great timing, I guess. Our Ford was good, but just wasn’t good as our teammate.”
Kevin Harvick would finish fifth after winning yesterday’s Nationwide Series event and leading a race-high 79 laps today.
“The 42 was better than us the run before and he passed us and was able to get position,” Harvick said. “I was really tight on the restart so I had to be defensive. Obviously, Kyle wants to win a race and that’s how you’re supposed to race and everybody was racing really hard.”
Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch finished sixth and seventh, respectively, as TRD debuted a brand new motor package in hopes of delivering more power for their drivers.
“We had a really good day early on,” Busch said of the laps he led early in the event after starting pole. “We had a good car early when we were out front. As more rubber got down, the more we fell back and got in traffic and at that point, you’re fighting aero demons. Can’t say enough about TRD. They’ve been working really hard and this week, it showed. I’d like to say that we need to get our cars better and if we do that, these guys are in for a worrisome nine weeks.”
Kurt Busch finished eighth followed by Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“We had a terrible Friday and Saturday,” Earnhardt commented. “We were just really concerned. Steve and the guys changed a lot of things in the car last night and they made a great racecar on the track today. Should’ve finished in the top-five – but I just didn’t get the restart that I needed and gave up some points there at the end of the race. As much as I hate to give away those points, proud of the team and their effort today. This is what we need to get through this round, but we need to get better in the future rounds.”
Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne finished 12th and 13th, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Newman. Newman was three laps down at one point in the event after cutting down a pair of left side tires. Other Chase notables include Carl Edwards struggling all day en route to finishing 20th, AJ Allmendinger fighting a broken shifter to 22nd and Greg Biffle struggling to finish 23rd. Aric Almirola had the worst day of his fellow Chase contenders en route to finishing 41st after blowing a motor with 37 laps to go while running sixth.
“I have never been so heartbroken, ever,” Almirola said. “To be running that good in the first round of the Chase. The only thing we can’t do is have a big mistake – and we have. Doug Yates builds awesome motors and thsi is probably the first motor failure that we’ve had in the three years that I’ve been with this team.”
Almirola admitted that his team will have a tough road ahead if they want to make it to the second round of the Chase. However, he says that they’re going to “buckle down and go after it.”