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Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Keselowski Conquers California

Keselowski+Conquers+California

Brad Keselowski was not one of the favorites heading into the weekend festivities at Auto Club Speedway. Heck, he recognized that it was one of his worst tracks on the schedule. But en route to his first win of the season, he led only one lap: the final one.

After a caution as race leader Kurt Busch was coming to the white flag on lap 199, everybody, besides a handful of drivers such as Greg Biffle, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, pitted for tires. About the first twelve drivers off pit road took two tires instead of four, opting for track position. Matt Kenseth (led 43 laps), whose pit crew was stellar on pit road all afternoon, broke an axle as he was leaving his stall on that final stop of regulation, and eventually finished 31st.

So Kevin Harvick won the race off pit road, followed by Busch. Harvick restarted in sixth place behind the drivers that did not pit, as eventual winner Keselowski restarted all the way back in about 15th position.

As the field raced their way to the green/white/checkered finish, Busch (led 65 laps) was leading when Kyle Larson’s bumper cover flew off, causing a debris caution to come out and reset the field.

So there would be another green/white/checkered finish upcoming. This time, Keselowski restarted in sixth with Busch as the leader. Keselowski’s four fresh tires prevailed, as he ended up getting past Busch on lap 209 (further than the scheduled 200 laps) and took the checkered flag. Harvick (led 34 laps) squeaked by Busch coming off turn four, as the No. 41 scraped the wall to grab his eighth-straight top two finish dating back to last season and his fifth to start the 2015 season, a new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series record.

It was obvious that Busch and Harvick had the cars to beat all afternoon. But the circumstances played into the No. 2’s favor, and he capitalized after a gutsy call from c crew chief Paul Wolfe.

“You never know how the strategy is going to play out here,” Harvick told reporters after the race. “There’s so many cars on the lead lap, you didn’t want to get buried in there (by taking four tires). One little bad move for Brad, he would have been stuck in the middle of that traffic. But it all worked out for him. The second restart, he was in prime position up on the outside with fresh tires.”

Busch was disappointed, but somewhat indifferent, for lack of a better word, after the third place effort, saying “We had two tires; Keselowski had four. We didn’t need that extra yellow at the end. That last restart, I just didn’t get the job done, and I just got out muscled by Keselowski.”

Bad Brad told reporters in victory lane that it was “Kind of a race car driver’s dream. This is one we’re going to sit back and go ‘Wow!’ for a while.”

Paul Menard, Ryan Newman, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top ten for Sunday’s race.

The fourth place finish was the season-best for the No. 27 team, with his RCR teammate, Newman, finishing in his bumper in fifth.

Aric Almirola came home 11th, with Justin Allgaier 12th, a career-best finish for him in the No. 51 Chevrolet.

Danica Patrick came home 19th for a season-best finish, Tony Stewart was 14th, Kasey Kahne was 17th and Chris Buescher came home a solid 20th in his first career Cup start.

Jamie McMurray was 21st after scraping the wall early on, Brett Moffitt 22nd, filling in for Brian Vickers (who will be out at least three more months with blood clots), Kyle Larson 26th after losing the aforementioned bumper cover, Brian Scott was 27th after running in the top 15 for most of the afternoon and Denny Hamlin (led 56 laps) came home a disappointing 28th after getting a pit road penalty for an uncontrolled tire right before the first green/white/checkered finish commenced.

AJ Allmendinger finished 34th after losing a cylinder in the first five laps of the race and Sam Hornish Jr. finished in dead last, 43rd, after sliding up into Trevor Bayne and making contact with the wall.

So what did we learn this week at Fontana? Busch is back and better, faster and more confident in his abilities and team than ever, Harvick is in fact beatable, but will always finish in the top two (kidding, of course), Keselowski punched his ticket to the Chase and Auto Club Speedway produced fantastic racing.

All afternoon, in front of a sellout crowd, drivers were fanning out in the corners and frontstretch, sometimes four or five wide, putting on a show, giving it their all for these fans. Auto Club used to be a snoozer on the schedule, and now it is possibly the most exciting and most anticipated race of the regular season.

Next weekend, NASCAR heads to Martinsville Speedway, as #NASCARGoesWest has concluded.

The defending winner for the race at Martinsville Speedway from last season?  You guessed it: Kurt Busch, who, ironically, got into a little on-track skirmish in 2014 there with Brad Keselowski.

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