Keselowski wins a thrilling race at Bristol

A week after stealing a late victory in the Coca-Cola 600, Brad Keselowski found himself at the right place at the right time to win the Food City presents the Supermarket Heroes 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway after leaders Chase Elliott and Joey Logano tangled in the final laps. The victory was Keselowski’s second of the season, third at Bristol and the 32nd of his NASCAR Cup Series career. The victory was also his second with his new crew chief Jeremy Bullins as Team Penske claimed its 13th Cup win at Bristol.

The starting lineup was based on a random draw. Keselowski drew the pole position and was joined on the front row with Aric Almirola. Gray Gaulding and Ryan Preece started at the rear of the field after their respective cars failed pre-race technical inspection twice.

When the race started, Keselowski launched ahead on the outside lane and was followed by his teammates Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano. After the first lap, Almirola dropped to sixth, while stuck on the bottom lane, as Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. moved into the top five. The majority of the competitors spent the first seven laps jostling for positions, slipping sideways and nearly racing three-wide through every corner until the first caution flew on the eighth lap, when Ryan Newman slipped sideways in Turn 1 and spun the following turn. He proceeded with no damage.


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The following restart on the 12th lap, Keselowski, again, rocketed with the lead followed by Truex, who passed Blaney for second. Keselowski was able to fend off Truex to lead the field through the first competition caution of the day on Lap 20. At the time of caution, Jimmie Johnson, who started 24th, was 11th while rookie Christopher Bell, who started 35th, was 21st.

Under caution, most of the leaders remained on track while 21 cars behind pitted. All took four tires, except for Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez and Chris Buescher, who pit for two tires. Corey LaJoie nabbed a pit road speeding penalty and was sent to the rear of the field. In addition, Chris Buescher returned to pit road to have a new scoring transponder installed to his No. 17 Ford. Despite the extra stop, he was allowed to retain his restart spot in 25th.

The race restarted on Lap 30, and Keselowski maintained his advantage on the outside lane. Almirola moved back to second followed by Kyle Busch as Truex fell to fourth. By Lap 35, Logano started making the bottom groove work to his advantage as he passed Truex for fourth. Three laps later, he moved to third over Kyle Busch while Stenhouse, who started 16th, moved to sixth and Truex drifted back to eighth. 

When the second competition caution flew on Lap 60, Keselowski was still in the lead, having led all the laps. Under caution, the leaders pitted, except for DiBenedetto, who pitted under caution on Lap 23. Keselowski exited with the lead followed by Almirola, Blaney, Logano and Kyle Busch. During the pit stops, Busch nearly ran over Clint Bowyer’s rear tire changer while exiting his pit stall and to avoid hitting Bowyer’s car. The situation soured for Busch, who was sent to the tail end of the field for speeding on pit road along with Suarez.

When the race restarted on Lap 67, Keselowski made a move on the inside lane to retake the lead from DiBenedetto. Blaney would take second followed by Elliott and Almirola. Logano would move to fifth while DiBenedetto fell back to sixth. 

On Lap 84, Blaney made a move underneath Keselowski in Turn 3 and took the lead. Two laps later, Elliott moved to second. On Lap 104, Elliott challenged Blaney for the lead as he attempted to move in front of him on the inside lane entering Turn 2. After spending the next two corners challenging his friend for the lead, Elliott took it from Blaney in Turn 1 a lap later and was able to clear him in Turn 2. Blaney attempted a crossover move in Turn 3, but Elliott used the outside lane to his advantage and maintained the lead through Turn 4. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch, who started at the rear of the field following his speeding penalty, had only made his way back up to 18th after passing his brother, Kurt.

When the race reached its conclusion of the first stage on Lap 125, Elliott, coming off his breakthrough win at Charlotte on Thursday, won his fourth stage of the season. Blaney was able to finish second followed by teammate Keselowski and Almirola, both of whom were repeatedly battling one another for position. Logano was fifth followed by Harvick, DiBenedetto, Hamlin, Stenhouse and Johnson.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted for four tires and Blaney was able to beat Elliott off pit road to reassume the lead. Logano exited third followed by Keselowski and Hamlin, who gained three positions on pit road. DiBenedetto was tabbed with a speeding penalty and sent to the rear while Alex Bowman made an extra pit stop for loose lug nuts.

The second stage started on Lap 137, with Blaney taking off on the outside lane. A lap later, Keselowski moved to second over Elliott. By Lap 150, Johnson moved to sixth followed by Hamlin, Bowyer was ninth, Kenseth was 12th and Kyle Busch was 13th. John Hunter Nemechek was the highest-running rookie in 14th.

On Lap 170, Keselowski, who gained a huge momentum in Turn 2, made a move below Blaney in Turn 3 to take the lead when Blaney lost a little momentum in the turn. Four laps later, Blaney mounted another charge through Turns 4 and 1 on the bottom and was about to regain his lead before Keselowski used the high lane to zip past his teammate and pull away. Meanwhile, Byron, who restarted 24th on Lap 135, was up to 14th.

On Lap 185, Stenhouse, Logano and Johnson went three wide for seventh on the track in Turn 2 as Logano and Johnson made contact while being stuck behind the lapped car of Brennan Poole. Stenhouse was able to take the position from both drivers and Johnson went three-wide with Logano and Poole to take eighth in Turn 4.

The caution returned on Lap 199, when Blaney, who was trying to hunt Keselowski back down for the lead, slipped on the high lane through Turns 1 and 2 and spun. His car came to rest on the straightaway near the wall and was clobbered by Ty Dillon, who was unable to slow his car and avoid making contact with Blaney. The collision destroyed the front nose of Blaney’s No. 12 Ford while Dillon sustained damage to the right-front fender. Both competitors would end their race in the garage.

Under caution, the leaders pitted for four tires. Elliott was able to exit pit road first followed by Keselowski, Hamlin, Harvick and Almirola.

The race restarted on Lap 208 with Elliott maintaining the lead. Harvick and Keselowski battled for second followed Byron who challenged Hamlin for a top-five spot. The caution returned on Lap 212 when Joey Gase spun in Turn 2. Five laps later, the race restarted and Elliott, again, powered through with the lead followed by Harvick as Keselowski, who spun his tires, fell to third. The caution quickly returned when Bayley Currey stalled his No. 53 Chevrolet in Turn 2.

When the race resumed on Lap 222, Elliott maintained the lead over the field. A lap later, Logano uses the high lane to move to second over Harvick. Keselowski, who lifted in Turn 3, fell back to fifth. On Lap 225, Logano peaked for the lead in Turn 4, but slipped in Turn 1, making contact with Elliott, but Elliott was able to maintain the lead. 

The caution returned on Lap 229 for a multi-car wreck, when Stenhouse, who stepped out of the gas to avoid hitting Kenseth in Turn 2, was turned by Johnson and made hard contact into the inside wall. Stenhouse’s No. 47 Chevrolet came back across the track, where he piled up with Kurt Busch, Bowman, Cole Custer, and Tyler Reddick in Turn 3. Preece and DiBenedetto were also involved as they spun below the apron. The race was red-flagged for 11 minutes and 35 seconds to give the safety crew time to clean the accident scene.

When the red flag was lifted, the pit road opened under caution and a handful of competitors like Truex, Johnson, Kenseth, Austin Dillon and Bubba Wallace pitted. DiBenedetto and Preece also pitted for repairs to their respective cars.

The restart on Lap 235 saw Elliott maintaining the lead on the outside lane while Hamlin moved into second. The caution returned four laps later when Preece made contact with the outside wall in Turn 3. Under caution, Almirola pitted and Suarez, who was three laps down early in the race, was able to race his way back on the lead lap after receiving the free pass.

Four laps later, with seven laps left in the second stage, Elliott rocketed to the lead as Hamlin spun his tires on the inside lane. Elliott would cruise to the win in the second stage by less than a second over Hamlin. The stage win was Elliott’s fifth of this season. Harvick finished third followed by Logano and Kyle Busch. Bowyer, Byron, Jones, Keselowski and Buescher finished in the top 10. By then, the race was also halfway complete.

Under the stage break, Elliott led most of the field to pit road while Hamlin remained on track to inherit the lead followed by Kyle Busch, Johnson, Austin Dillon, Kenseth, Bell, Ryan Newman, Wallace, Michael McDowell, Almirola and Suarez. Following the pit stops, Elliott exited first followed by Logano, Harvick, Bowyer, Keselowski and Byron while Truex gained four spots.

The race restarted on Lap 262 and Hamlin was able to maintain the lead followed by teammate Kyle Busch. Johnson, who restarted third, slipped in Turn 4 and fell back to sixth while being overtaken by Austin Dillon, Almirola and Bell. While the majority of the competitors started to race aggressively and hard for position, Chris Buescher and Byron each made contact with the wall, but continued. On Lap 269, Buescher tagged the wall a second time in Turn 1 and pitted for a cut right-front tire, which drew a caution. By the time the caution flew, Elliott, who restarted 12th, was up to 10th behind Newman.

When the race restarted on Lap 274, Hamlin, this time, benefitted from the inside lane to maintain the lead over Busch. Five laps later, Busch made a move on the inside lane to return to the lead over his teammate. Eleven laps later, DiBenedetto took his No. 21 Ford to the garage due to a broken front-tire rod.

With 200 laps remaining, Busch stabilized his lead to nearly two seconds over Hamlin, who was engaged in a heated battle with Almirola. Johnson was in fourth and Elliott was in 10th, battling Harvick. Bell, Austin Dillon, Kenseth and Logano were fifth through eighth while Wallace fell back to 15th. Bowyer and Keselowski were 11th and 12th.

With 178 laps remaining, Johnson moved into the runner-up spot, trailing Busch by more than three seconds. Four laps later, Almirola moved to third and a lap later, Bell moved to fourth. The caution fell two laps later, when Austin Dillon smacked the outside wall due to a flat right-front tire. Under caution, the field pitted. Busch exited first followed by Hamlin, Logano, Almirola and Elliott. However, Logano, Keselowski, Wallace and Austin Dillon were all sent to the rear due to speeding on pit road.

The race restarted with 165 to go and Busch managed to hold the lead on the inside lane followed by Hamlin. Elliott moved fourth to third while Johnson moved from sixth to fifth. The caution returned with 145 laps remaining, when Newman spun through Turns 1 and 2 for the second time. Under caution, most of the leaders remained on track while some, starting with Almirola, pitted. Truex, Byron, Kenseth, Logano, Nemechek, Wallace, Austin Dillon, McDowell, Corey LaJoie and Newman also pitted.

With 140 laps remaining, the race returned to green and Hamlin used the outside lane to retake the lead from Kyle Busch. 

As the laps dwindled, Busch started reeling in to teammate Hamlin for the lead, behind by two-tenths of a second, with Johnson lurking right behind as the leaders also started to catch lapped traffic. With 84 to go, Busch used the lapped car of J.J. Yeley to, finally, retake the lead from Hamlin, who was overtaken by Johnson for second two laps later in Turn 4.

With 68 to go, the caution returned when Harvick got into the Turn 1 wall after making contact with Jones. The leaders pitted and Hamlin, who pitted from third, reassumed the lead followed by Johnson, Busch, Elliott, Truex and Logano, who gained four spots. Bell was sent to the rear of the field due to an uncontrolled tire violation along with Austin Dillon, who was speeding on pit road.

The race restarted with 61 to go, and Hamlin launched ahead on the high lane followed by Elliott and Johnson. Kyle Busch fell back to sixth. Six laps later, Elliott gained a huge run on the inside lane in Turn 3 and nearly cleared himself for the lead before Hamlin used the high lane to battle back and clear Elliott the following lap. With 43 to go, Elliott established a crossover move to the inside of Hamlin and was inches away from taking the lead when the caution flew as Gaulding slapped the wall through Turns 1 and 2. At the time of caution, Hamlin was deemed the leader. 

Hamlin maintained the lead on a restart with 37 to go while Logano moved to second. The caution returned a lap later, when a bump from Wallace in Turn 1 sent Almirola into the left side of Truex, who had slipped and lost momentum in Turn 3, that sent Truex spinning while Almirola and McDowell wrecked against the outside wall. 

With the race restarting with 29 to go, Hamlin retained the lead followed by Logano and Kyle Busch. Byron moved to fifth while Johnson fell back to seventh as Elliott passed Kyle Busch for third. With 15 to go, the top-four competitors, (Hamlin, Logano, Elliott, Busch), were separated by less than one second. 

With 12 to go, Hamlin slipped in Turn 1, allowing Logano and Elliott to make their way past Hamlin in Turn 2. The following turn, Logano slipped and made contact with the wall, which resulted in Elliott going to the lead and Hamlin making contact with Logano and spinning into the path of the lapped car of B.J. McLeod in Turn 4, which drew a caution the following lap and set the race for a late showdown to the finish.

When the race restarted with five laps remaining, Elliott launched with a slight advantage over Logano, who came back a lap later to squeak ahead with the lead. Entering Turn 4, with three laps remaining, Logano managed to clear Elliott on the inside lane, but not without being bumped by Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet through Turn 1 as Elliott made a move on the inside lane to draw even with Logano’s No. 22 Ford while making contact again. In Turn 3, Elliott slid into Logano and both went up and against the outside wall, which allowed Keselowski to take the lead. Bowyer came out in second followed by Kyle Busch as the field scattered to avoid Logano and Elliott. For the final two laps, Keselowski was able to beat Bowyer by less than four-tenths of a second to steal an overwhelming win at Thunder Valley. 

“Oh, my goodness!” Keselowski said. “I think everybody on this Discount Tire Ford Mustang team is gonna go to Vegas. Is it open yet? ‘Cause things have been going our way from the luck of the draw and the qualifying to the last few laps there. We couldn’t get anything to go our way the start of the race with cars staying out and kept getting the bottom lane on the restarts. Nothing was working out. Right at the end, we came in, we put two tires on the lefts and drove up to fourth or sixth, I guess. We put ourselves in position. I didn’t know what was gonna happen, but I knew if I just kept my eye open, something might happen and sure enough, it did. Incredible day! This was a never-give-up effort and that’s where we’re coming as a team.”

Logano and Elliott limped home in 21st and 22nd. After taking the checkered flag and parking their wrecked race cars on pit road, they met to discuss the incident.

“[Elliott] wrecked me,” Logano said. “He got loose underneath me. The part that’s frustrating is, afterwards, a simple apology like be a man, come up to somebody and say, ‘Hey, my bad.’ I had to force an apology, which, to me, is childish. Anyways, man, we had a good recovery with our AutoTrader Mustang and had a shot to win and that’s all you can hope for. [I] passed him clean. It’s hard racing at the end, I get that. It’s hard racing, but, golly man, be a man and take the hit when you’re done with it.”

“Just going for the win,” Elliott said. “Trying to get underneath him, got really loose in. I don’t know if I had a tire going down or if I just got loose on entry, but as soon as I turned off the wall, I had zero chance in making it. I’ll certainly take the blame. I think I just got loose and got up into him. I felt like that was my shot. He was really good on the short run. I felt like I had to keep him behind me right there in order to win the race with only three, four laps to go. I hate we both wrecked, but you can’t go back in time now.”

Bowyer settled in second followed by Johnson in his penultimate race at Bristol. Teammates Kyle Busch and Jones rounded out the top five. Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, Byron, Bell and Wallace finished in the top 10. 

The race featured 21 lead changes with seven different leaders. There were 17 cautions for 102 laps.

Harvick continues to lead the Cup regular-season series standings by 24 points over Logano, 45 over Elliott and 55 over Keselowski. 

Results:

1. Brad Keselowski, 115 laps led

2. Clint Bowyer

3. Jimmie Johnson

4. Kyle Busch, 100 laps led

5. Erik Jones

6. Austin Dillon

7. Kurt Busch

8. William Byron

9. Christopher Bell

10. Bubba Wallace

11. Kevin Harvick

12. Ryan Preece

13. John Hunter Nemechek

14. Michael McDowell

15. Ryan Newman

16. Matt Kenseth

17. Denny Hamlin, 131 laps led

18. Daniel Suarez

19. Timmy Hill

20. Martin Truex Jr.

21. Joey Logano, two laps led

22. Chase Elliott, 88 laps, Stage 1 & 2 winner

23. Chris Buescher, four laps down

24. Brennan Poole, six laps down

25. J.J. Yeley, eight laps down

26. Garrett Smithley, 11 laps down

27. Quin Houff, 17 laps down

28. B.J. McLeod – OUT, Accident

29. Aric Almirola – OUT, Accident

30. Gray Gaulding – OUT, Accident

31. Matt DiBenedetto, 44 laps down, four laps led

32. Corey LaJoie – OUT, Fuel Pressure

33. Joey Gase – OUT, Too Slow

34. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – OUT, Accident

35. Cole Custer – OUT, Accident

36. Tyler Reddick – OUT, Accident

37. Alex Bowman – OUT, Accident

38. Bayley Currey – OUT, Accident

39. Ty Dillon – OUT, Accident

40. Ryan Blaney – OUT, Accident, 60 laps led

The NASCAR Cup Series will travel to Hampton, Georgia, to race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on June 7. The race can be seen at 3 p.m. ET on FOX.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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