LAS VEGAS — There was lots of action at the South Point 400 including 12 caution flags. Many of the 16 drivers in playoffs contention crashed. But it was Brad Keselowski who took the checkered flag on Sunday afternoon at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Keselowski led 75 of the 272 laps in his No. 2 Autotrader Ford Fusion. It was the third win-in-a-row for the Rochester Hills, Mich. native. In addition, it was Roger Penske’s 500th win as a team owner. Unfortunately, he couldn’t be there because he was in Sonoma for the Indycar championship race. Brad and his team posed for photos wearing special edition “500” hats in black and red.
“Winning is about more than being the fastest,” Keselowski told the media. “It’s about being the best in all facets and taking advantage of opportunities. We probably weren’t the best today–with respect to being the fastest car. But my team was the best today–in respect to executing on pit stops, putting us in a position to control the race and then getting through the chaos. To date before these three races, we weren’t able to do that. We’re finding ourselves taking advantage of opportunities at a much higher level. I am so thrilled to see this team do that over the last few weeks. Today, last week and the week before, we weren’t good enough to dominate–it took a total team effort.”
The story of the day were the 12 cautions. Over and over again, drivers either got in crashes or blew tires or lost control and ended up in the grass. The race went into overtime due to a late crash in turn three that forced a red flag. Drivers had to sit in their cars and sweat it out until it was safe to go racing again. The temperature inside the race cars exceeded 150 degrees, according to NBC Sports.
“The cautions were frustrating but what was more frustrating than that was the red flag,” race winner Brad Keselowski added. “I’ve heard stories of living in an oven before and I think I’ve lived it now. It was a challenge. This was a mentally grueling race. When you get hot, you’re stuck in those situations and then you add the chaos of the restarts…it really tests you and challenges you mentally. Our team was able to make the most of it.”
The inaugural South Point 400 lasted 3 hours 28 mins and 15 seconds. It was definitely a scorcher for drivers and fans alike. Temperatures were over 100 degrees for the entire race. There were 23 lead changes among 9 drivers. Martin Truex Jr. led the most laps at 96 and won stage one. Joey Logano led 46 laps and Kyle Larson led 24.
“The last three weeks are big races for different reasons,” said Paul Wolfe, Keselowski’s crew chief. “The 500th win and the first win of the playoffs means so much. There’s just been a lot on the line the last few weeks. It’s just amazing to see how this team steps up and is able to execute without any mistakes when there’s a lot on the line. It’s something to be proud of and I’m excited to be part of it. We’ve had some special moments with the No. 2 team and I’m proud of that.”
Erik Jones won the Busch pole award and started the race in front. At age 22, he was the youngest driver to do so in Las Vegas. However, he crashed on lap 147 and finished dead last.
“It was a good race, a good experience,” said racing fan Vince from Las Vegas. “Lots of cautions today. Brad is going for four next week. A little hot today but it was fun.”
Before the race even got underway, hand tool maker GearWrench held its win a Camaro Challenge Finale at the track. The top three finalists were flown into Las Vegas to go face-to-face for a brand new custom Chevrolet Camaro SS. The grand prize winner was Steve Steiner from Spring Lake Park, Minn.
“It’s kind of surreal still,” Steiner said in an exclusive interview. “This whole weekend has been amazing. GearWrench has been some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They treated us so well and took care of us. I’ve been blown away this whole weekend. It’s going to have to stay in the garage. I do construction so it would get dirty real quick with the job that I have.”
The South Point 400 was the first race of the 2018 NASCAR Playoffs. It was one that the drivers needed to do their best in order to stay in contention for the trophy. Furthermore, it was the first time a NASCAR Cup series race has taken place here in September. I’m told it took 20 years to get a second race added to the track that traditionally features a March race.
“It was perfect…Brad was awesome,” said racing fan Julie from France. “It’s amazing. I think there will be a big party at Penske because Brad and Penske. This team is amazing.”
Once again, the winner was Brad Keselowski. Next week, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series heads to Richmond for the Federated Auto Parts 400.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 16, 2018
— Team Penske (@Team_Penske) September 17, 2018