Brad Keselowski would use his four tires on a late pit stop to his advantage as he would take the lead from Kurt Busch on the final lap to score the victory in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
“I knew the 4 (Kevin Harvick) and 41 (Busch) had been the class of the weekend,” Keselowski said. “On speed, they deserved to win. We stole one today. Everybody worked hard on the team – that’s two in the first four races, and both cars are in the chase. As I crossing the finish line, I was just saying that I wanted to win at Roger’s track.”
As the race got into the final 50 laps, a caution would fly with 47 laps to go for debris on the frontstretech. The leaders would use this as an opportunity to come down pit road, with Matt Kenseth winning the race off pit road ahead of Busch and Kevin Harvick. The restart would come with 42 laps to go, with Kenseth pulling out to the early advantage. It looked as though it was going to come down to a fuel mileage race, with some drivers a lap short, others three laps short. “Run as hard as you can, but save as much fuel as you can” were the words of Chad Knaus, Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief with 19 laps to go.
However, the strategy discussion would go up in smoke as the caution would fly with 16 laps to go, once again for debris, this time in turn one. Harvick would come off first ahead of Busch, Johnson and Brad Keselowski. Kenseth, meanwhile, saw his hopes of victory go up in a dash as he would break an axle, while his teammate Denny Hamlin would have to start tail end of the field due to a penalty for an uncontrolled tire.
The restart would come with 11 laps to go with Busch taking the lead ahead of Harvick down the backstretch. Busch looked to have the win, with a small chance at Harvick passing him as Harvick was second right behind him. However, things would change when the caution flew with two laps to go for debris in turns three and four. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle would stay out, while Busch would lead Earnhardt Jr., Harvick, Johnson and Paul Menard off pit road after each of them took two tires. Keselowski, meanwhile, would take four tires, resulting in restarting just outside the top 10.
Busch would get a good restart to pull ahead of Harvick for the lead, while Biffle started to slide back really quickly. In the process of sliding back, he would slightly tag Kyle Larson, causing Larson to slide up the track and get into the wall. When he made contact with the wall, the rear tail piece would fly off, drawing the caution for debris.
The second attempt at a green-white-checkered kicked off with Menard giving Busch a shove, sending him out to the lead. Busch would then start to gap the field ahead of Harvick. Brad Keselowski would make his way up through the field, moving into second behind Busch. As the leaders went into turn one, Greg Biffle would wreck on the frontstraightaway. However, NASCAR did not throw the caution as Biffle was able to get going.
Coming off of turn four, Keselowski would make his move and take the lead, leading the rest of the way to score his victory and punch his ticket into the Chase for the Championship. Kevin Harvick, who had won the past two races, would finish second after passing Busch off of turn four.
“What a race,” Harvick commented. “Just really happy for the fans and everybody who is watching to see a race like that. You never know how the strategy should work out. The second restart doesn’t come about and two tires is the right call. Just proud of Rodney and everybody on the team for what they do.”
Busch crossed the finish line in third, marking his second straight top-five finish.
“The team did a great job working on the car,” he said. “It was fantastic to drive. You just never know what strategy is going to work. We just got hung out on the yellows at the end. On the last restart, I just didn’t get the job done – Brad out-muscled us on tires.”
Paul Menard finished fourth, followed by Ryan Newman, who was able to fight his way to the front after struggling the first half of the race.
“We struggled for most of the day,” Newman admitted. “We did a good job in making the strategy call at the end for four tires. The guys did a good job. When your best running position is the last lap, you can’t be too upset.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished sixth, followed by Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.