Finally! Keselowski Gets Penske’s First Brickyard 400 Win

Brad Keselowski crosses the line to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images]

By Dan Margetta

Speedway, Ind., Sept. 10—The month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is ruled by Roger Penske, whose teams have won the Indianapolis 500 a record 17 times, but when the stock cars roll around later in the year, the iconic team owner had been shut out with nary a trip to victory lane in the previous 24 editions of the Brickyard 400.

That is until Monday…yes Monday. On a day later than originally scheduled due to all day rains on Sunday, Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski caught a late break that played directly into his team’s strategy and delivered “The Captain” his first victory in the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard.

Keselowski’s crew chief, Paul Wolfe, elected to pit Keselowski late in his final run as he was last among the leaders to hit pit road on lap 142 just before the caution flag waved a lap later for a large piece of debris on the frontstretch. The strategy left Keselowski with fresh tires a bit deep in the field and he began to work his way forward while Denny Hamlin began to streak away out front as the laps dwindled down. Keselowski was able to work his way to third behind Hamlin and Clint Bowyer and despite turning laps considerably faster than the top two, it appeared his bid would come up short as the distance between himself and those in front of him seemed too great to overcome. But when Landon Cassill and Jeffrey Earnhardt crashed hard with just a handful of laps to go, the ensuing caution flag tightened the field and gave Keselowski the chance he needed.

Hamlin tried hard to fend off the challenge as the race restarted with just three laps to go as Keselowski quickly dispatched Bowyer and latched onto Hamlin’s bumper. With two laps to go, Keselowski moved alongside Hamlin and the two rubbed fenders down the backstretch before Keselowski’s fresher tires prevailed heading into turn three. Keselowski led the final lap uncontested and captured the victory while Erik Jones made a late charge to edge around Hamlin for second.

“I’ve got to give credit to my crew chief, Paul Wolfe, as he made a heck of a call to pit there, “Keselowski said shortly after emerging from his car, “We pitted late in that run and the yellow came out and we had new tires and we started eighth and it was kind of like they gave me the ball and I had to make a play.”

“We weren’t a dominant car by any means but Paul and everybody executed an incredible race and I just had to do my job.” Keselowski continued, “And here we are in victory lane at the Brickyard.”

“It feels great to give Roger Penske his first Cup car win here at the Brickyard,” Keselowski said, “It’s just an incredible feeling and I’m so happy for everybody at Team Penske.”

“It’s always nice when you can finish better than you think you are going to,” Erik Jones stated following his closing laps charge to a second place finish, “I thought maybe we had an eighth place car and we just executed well and staying out at the end, the crew left it up to me and I decided to stay out, and when it happened I thought we were in a bad spot with all those guys taking tires behind us but the car actually got better and better all day and it actually fired off really good on the last restart and we were able to have a shot.”

Hamlin, who led twice for 37 laps, was dejected with his third place finish after having what looked like a sure Brickyard win foiled by the final caution flag.
“I had the race pretty well in hand and guys wrecked for no apparent reason and then we just got roughed up by the 2 there (Keselowski) on new tires.” Hamlin lamented, “That’s the way it goes, sometimes. Sometimes the cautions don’t fall your way and all those cautions and meaningless wrecks allowed those guys on new tires to be right on us.”

Kevin Harvick paced the field for 22 laps and ended the day in fourth place after having to overcome miscues that hampered his performance during the race.
“We had the fastest car but we just kept fumbling there and having stuff go wrong.” Harvick stated, “We had a pit gun break and just had stuff go wrong all over the place but in the end we came back and had a decent finish.”

Clint Bowyer led three times for 37 laps and was the winner of the first stage but despite having a fast car, got caught by the late caution flag and ended the day in fifth place.

“It’s a game of luck and there wasn’t really any strategy,” Bowyer said,” You can’t strategize for cautions that you don’t know are going to exist and I felt like we were definitely fast and all of a sudden the caution comes out and hands “2” (Keselowski) the win. It’s frustrating but that’s the nature of the beast and we can take this good run as a confidence booster heading into the playoffs.”

Kurt Busch led two times for 19 laps and finished sixth while Jamie McMurray was seventh. Kyle Busch, who led twice for 27 laps and finished eighth, wrapped up the regular season championship which netted him an extra 15 points heading into the season playoffs next week.

“Overall in the grand scheme of things I guess it was a pretty good day considering we get to go home with some hardware and some more bonus points heading into the playoffs,” Busch said, “It was certainly hard fought today and obviously we had a lot of frustrations out there but it’s pretty good to be in this spot having those extra bonus points and some new hardware.”

Former Brickyard winners Paul Menard and Ryan Newman rounded out the top ten finishers.

A resurgent Matt Kenseth was the Stage 2 winner and raced among the leaders for most of the day before a pit road miscue on his final stop relegated him to a 12th place finish.

The Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard was the final race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Regular Season and the sixteen driver playoff grid was set following the event with seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman claiming the final two playoff spots.

The Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard featured fourteen lead changes among nine drivers and was slowed ten times under the caution flag for 39 laps.

Share Button