Brad Keselowski’s late move in the pits wins Southern 500

Published 1:03 am Monday, September 3, 2018

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Brad Keselowski provided perhaps the biggest throwback at the Southern 500 — giving Team Penske its first victory at Darlington Raceway in 43 years.
“This is probably the biggest win of my career,” said Keselowski, the 2012 NASCAR champion.
Keselowski beat leader Kyle Larson out of the pits — “It couldn’t have been more than 10 feet,” Keselowski said — with 22 laps to go, then pulled away on the restart to sweep the weekend at Darlington.
Keselowski took the Xfinity race Saturday when leaders Ross Chastain and Kevin Harvick wrecked late. This time, Keselowski and his crew took advantage on the final caution to move in front with a fast pit stop.
Keselowski then did the rest as he opened a 1 1/2-second lead down the stretch.
It was Keselowski’s first victory of the season — the 25th of his career — and the first time a Team Penske driver has won at Darlington since Bobby Allison in the 1975 Southern 500.
“Got to give a lot of credit to my pit crew,” Keselowski said. “Running second that last stop and they nailed it.”
They also put Team Penske in victory lane here for first time in decades in a race that has become the sports’ Old Timer’s Day to celebrate its history. Keselowski drove a Miller Genuine Draft paint scheme that Rusty Wallace used when driving for Penske.
Walt Czarnecki, Team Penske vice chairman, said he was glad to break the long dry spell at Darlington and give the organization its 498th win across several platforms of racing.
“I’ve been in touch with Roger (Penske) and he’s about excited as can be,” Czarnecki said.
Joey Logano, Keselowski’s Penske teammate, finished second, and Larson was third.
Logano was grateful to see Team Penske on top. “The one-two is nice,” he said. “Racing Larson there, I was think it’d be good to get a one-two. It be really nice (for me) to be the one.”
Larson won the first two stages and led 284 of the 367 laps. Yet, he leaves disappointed with his seventh top-three finish of the season. Larson chose to focus on the strong showing
“This is my fifth Cup season and I’ve run second or third a lot, so I guess you get used to it,” Larson said with a chuckle. “The disappointment, I can handle it better than most people.”
Kevin Harvick was fourth and Chase Elliott fifth.
The Busch brothers were next — Kurt in sixth, points leader Kyle in seventh — with Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray and pole-sitter Denny Hamlin rounding out the top 10.
WHO’s HOT: Harvick leads the series with seven wins this season and stayed hot at Darlington despite starting 22nd. It was the 21st time in 25 races he’s wound up in the top 10.
WHO’S NOT: Jimmie Johnson struggled throughout the weekend at Darlington Raceway. He suffered some damage during qualifying and had to start from the back of the field for unapproved changes. He was assessed a pass-through penalty for a commitment line violation when trying to enter the pits. Then had to go behind the wall with an oil pump problem that knocked him from the race. Johnson, the seven-time champion, does not have a win this season and, while he’s in the playoffs on points at the moment, may have work to do at the final regular season race at Indianapolis next week to reach the postseason. “I don’t want to be in this position,” Johnson said.
THE BIG ONE: The nastiest wreck of the race was when Clint Bowyer slammed hard into Ryan Newman, who appeared to be slowing down to head into the pits. Bowyer hit hard into the wall twice before coming to a stop in the center of the track. The No. 14 was towed into the garage. Bowyer was evaluated and released from the infield care center. “He just stopped right in the middle of the race track,” Bowyer said of Newman.
PLAYOFF PICTURE: Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola clinched playoff spots after the Southern 500, meaning there are two more spots to fill in next week’s regular-season finale at Indianapolis.
WEATHER DELAY: Darlington officials twice had to clear the grandstands because of potential severe weather threatening the area. Drivers were called to return to their cars about 45 minutes later and, following the singing of the national anthem, were ordered back to safety. In all, the weather delayed the start of the race by about 45 minutes.
UP NEXT: The Cup series regular season comes to an end with The Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Kasey Kahne is the defending champion, winning when it was run in July 2017.