Fontana, Calif. (March 22, 2015) — Brad Keselowski came from out of nowhere to pass Kurt Busch on the second green-white-checkered finish to score a dramatic victory in Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
Keselowski led only one of the 209 laps in his Team Penske Ford, but it was the one he needed to lead, as he held off the dominant Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolets of teammates Kevin Harvick and Busch to win. Paul Menard and Ryan Newman completed the top five in their Richard Childress Racing Chevrolets.
The SHR cars were the class of the field all weekend, but tire strategy proved to be the difference as Keselowski won his 17th career Cup race. With the victory, both he and teammate Joey Logano are virtual locks to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Keselowski began the second two-lap restart in sixth place, but had taken four fresh tires on his final pit stop, to just two for Busch and Harvick. That proved to be the difference in passing the faster SHR cars.
Lincoln Electric is a proud partner of Team Penske.
"I knew the 4 (Harvick) and the 41 (Busch) had been kind of the class of the weekend," said Keselowski. "And those cars, you know, on speed definitely deserved to win, so we kind of stole one today."
Harvick finished in the top two for the eighth consecutive race, a mark exceeded only by Richard Petty, who had 11 in a row in 1975.
"I'm just really proud of my team," said Harvick "... I hate the 41 (Busch) wasn't able to hang on for the win."
As for Busch, he was philosophical. "We just got hung out on the yellows at the end," said Busch. "When do you pit to pit four tires on? When do you pit to put two tires on? And that last restart, I just didn't get the job done. Brad outmuscled us with four tires."
The unpredictable ending was a fitting conclusion to a wide-open afternoon of racing. It was an all-Stewart-Haas front row at the start, with Busch on the pole and Harvick seeking his third consecutive victory from the outside of Row 1. Busch took the lead at the start, with Harvick falling in close behind and then passing his teammate to lead Lap 6. After a caution for a David Ragan spin in Turn 4 on Lap 24, the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas of Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin won the race off pit road, with Harvick coming out third and Busch fifth.
Hamlin got past on Lap 32, taking his first lead since Atlanta, and once out front, he led comfortably. By Lap 55, the Toyota drivers led more laps in this race than all the Toyota pilots had in the first four races of the season combined. After a caution for debris on Lap 88, Kenseth retook the lead on pit road and was out front when the green flew on Lap 93, with Busch and Harvick in hot pursuit. Busch went to the lead on Lap 95, and after a third yellow, fell back a couple of positions during pit stops before regaining the point on Lap 105 with Harvick in second.
Harvick drove to the front on Lap 145, shortly after Busch scraped the wall. After a caution for debris on Lap 154, Kenseth took the lead on pit road, with Harvick second and Busch third. Then, more drama in the form of a debris caution on Lap 185. Under yellow, Kenseth's shot at victory ended when he broke an axle leaving pit road. The race restarted on Lap 189, with Busch taking the lead with a great restart but Harvick applying tremendous pressure soon after. Then, on Lap 200, there was a caution for debris. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle stayed out, with most of the leaders pitting for two tires. Keselowski took four tires and restarted 17th.
Busch took the lead on the restart, but the yellow came out again when Kyle Larson lost the bumper cover off the back of his car. The race restarted on Lap 207 with Busch and Harvick 1-2. But Busch bounced off the wall on the final lap and Keselowski came out of nowhere to win, with Harvick taking second.
With five races complete on the season, Harvick leads the points by 28 over Joey Logano.