Providing exactly the kind of wild finish that has made Bristol Motor Speedway one of the most popular venues on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule, Brad Keselowski was in perfect position to take advantage of hard racing in the closing laps and earned the victory in Sunday’s Food City presents the SUPERMARKET HEROES 500.
With two laps remaining race leaders Joey Logano and Chase Elliott collided in front of the field and Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford rallied on to take the lead and earn his second win of the season - holding off fellow Ford driver Clint Bowyer by 0.471-second.
Bowyer joked after the race, “I wasn’t going to have a problem apologizing to Brad for dumping him at the end."
Keselowski seemed almost surprised as he was satisfied by the ultimate positive outcome. He had been fast all day even when he wasn’t leading. But all three of the late race leaders - Denny Hamlin, Logano and Elliott crashed out inside of 10 laps remaining.
“We kind of got a Christmas present here in Bristol," Keselowski said. “We’ll take it.
“We were in position and able to strike when it counted with the Discount Tire Ford Mustang. Joey and Chase got together there. I don’t know what all caused it, but we were just in position to strike and here we are in Victory Lane."
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson finished third, followed by Bristol’s all-time winningest driver Kyle Busch, and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Erik Jones. Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, William Byron, rookie Christopher Bell and Bubba Wallace rounded out the top 10 on a day of high action and drama.
“Wild and crazy for sure," Johnson said. “I wish there were more long runs but still salvaged a great day out of it."
There was no lack of motivation at the front of the field - and plenty of cars who showed the way there.
Keselowski started on pole position and his 115 laps led was second only to Denny Hamlin’s 131 laps out front. Keselowski certainly set the early pace up front and consistently ran among the top-10 all day. He said he had trouble hitting the restarts correctly as the race went on and conceded he got frustrated, “I was pushing really hard and got a pit road speeding penalty and thought, man, I’m just digging a hole."
In the end, however, he was exactly where he needed to be to hoist the trophy.
With less than 10 laps to go Hamlin and Elliott were dueling at the front of the field for the victory before Hamlin hit the Turn 4 wall with six laps remaining. Elliott and Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano took up the fight for the lead and ultimately collided into the Turn 4 wall leaving a golden opportunity for Keselowski who led the field right by.
“It was just such a turn of events it felt like I was playing poker in Vegas," Keselowski joked.
Logano, who ended up 21st and Elliott, who ended up 22nd, had an intense conversation on pit road after the race.
“As soon as I turned off the wall I had zero chance of making it, I’ll certainly take the blame, I just got loose," Elliott said. “I really felt like that was my shot, he was really good on the short run and I felt like I had to keep him behind me right there in order to win the race, with only three or four laps to go. I hate we both wrecked."
Big picture perspective, however, Elliott, had yet another strong day winning the first two stages.
His fast No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet won the most recent series race on Thursday at Charlotte and was runner-up to Keselowski in the 600 as well.
It was also a promising day for Kyle Busch, who had led only 14 laps this entire season coming to Bristol - where he is NASCAR’s all-time winningest driver with eight Cup, nine Xfinity and five Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series victories – but ultimately led 100 laps Sunday earning his fifth top-five finish of the season; third in the last four races.
He certainly turned in a great rally effort. After being penalized for speeding on pit road early and falling back as far as 31st, he methodically and expertly worked his way forward to lead laps and show his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota a factor in the outcome.
Ryan Blaney led 60 of the opening laps and was challenging his Team Penske teammate Keselowski for the race lead when he hit the wall on Lap 199 of the 500. As Blaney’s No. 12 Ford came down off the wall, Ty Dillon’s car – unsure where Blaney’s car was sliding - slammed into the front of it.
Radiator damage spelled the end of Blaney’s otherwise promising day. But as he reassured his crew heading onto pit road, “at least we’ve got something to build off for the Playoff race here."
A larger accident, involving eight cars in various capacities ended Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s day at his favorite track. Stenhouse ran among the top-10 for much of the early race and was among those frontrunners when he was caught up in a chain reaction accident.
While slowing for Matt Kenseth in front of him, Stenhouse was nudged from behind by Johnson. The contact sending Stenhouse hard into the wall and he collected a half dozen others including 2020 race winner Alex Bowman and impressive Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer ending their days.
In all, there were 17 caution periods for 102 laps on the day - the most in a Bristol race since 2006.
With an 11th-place finish, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick continues to lead the NASCAR Cup Series championship standings by 24 points over Logano and 45 over Elliott.
The series moves to the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 (3 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and then competes in another mid-week special at the smallest oval on the schedule, Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Wednesday night, June 10.