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Brad Keselowski earned a place in the next round of the 2018 NASCAR playoffs, winning the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Keselowski is now riding a three-race winning streak heading into the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway on Saturday. He also delivered Team Penske its 500th overall victory.
Keselowski held off Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. during a three-lap overtime period. The No. 2 car got a little help from the No. 78 car at the restart, with Truex’s bump allowing Keselowski to open a big lead on the rest of the field.
There was little drama regarding the outcome as Keselowski closed in on the finish line:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
Three wins in a row for Brad @Keselowski!
What a win for @Team_Penske, earning its 500th win across all racing. #GoingFor2 https://t.co/isiyEKZ6cV
Here’s a look at the top 10 finishers, with the full leaderboard available on NASCAR.com:
South Point 400 Leaderboard (Top 10)
1. Brad Keselowski
2. Kyle Larson
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4. Joey Logano
5. Ryan Blaney
6. Aric Almirola
7. Kyle Busch
8. Daniel Suarez
9. Ryan Newman
10. Paul Menard
Keselowski sits atop the playoff standings by virtue of Sunday’s win, per ESPN.com:
2018 Monster Energy Cup Playoff Standings
1. Brad Keselowski (2,069 points)
2. Martin Truex Jr. (2,087 points)
3. Kyle Busch (2,085 points)
4. Kevin Harvick (2,060 points)
5. Joey Logano (2,056 points)
6. Kurt Busch (2,046 points)
7. Ryan Blaney (2,042 points)
8. Kyle Larson (2,041 points)
9. Aric Almirola (2,034 points)
10. Austin Dillon (2,031 points)
11. Clint Bowyer (2,029 points)
12. Alex Bowman (2,028 points)
13. Jimmie Johnson (2,022 points)
14. Chase Elliott (2,019 points)
15. Erik Jones (2,009 points)
16. Denny Hamlin (2,008 points)
Keselowski led 75 of the 272 laps, second-most on the day. He saved his best for last as he turned what could’ve been a tense finish into a breeze.
Fortunes can change rapidly in the NASCAR playoffs. Keselowski’s three straight wins won’t mean much if he encounters one error that causes him to tumble in the playoff standings.
The fact he’s already through to the second stage takes a lot of pressure off, though, and he appears to be peaking at the right time.
Las Vegas Motor Speedway was unforgiving for many other drivers in the 2018 playoff field.
Kevin Harvick was tied with Kyle Busch for the highest point total (2,050) heading into the first race. His hopes of advancing to the next round looked to be in jeopardy when his right front tire blew, causing a wreck between the No. 4 car and Erik Jones, another playoff contender:
Here’s another look at the crash that ended the day for @KevinHarvick and @erik_jones. #NASCARPlayoffs
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Harvick was blunt about the tires he used throughout the race.
“Well, there was something wrong from the time we put the tires on,” he said, per Motorsport.com’s Nick DeGroot. “It was like Russian roulette every time you put these piece of crap tires on and try to drive around the race track.”
Goodyear representative Stu Grant responded to Harvick’s comment, saying Goodyear “[has] not had any complaints about inconsistent tires.”
Granted, Jones might have even more reason for frustration since he was basically a victim of circumstance. The 22-year-old remained optimistic on Twitter after the race:
Erik Jones @erik_jones
Not the way we wanted to start but we’ve got the team and the determination to do it. We’re going to be fine. We can only control our race.
Jones was in 10th place entering the day (2,005 points), so the wreck will likely be even more devastating to his chances of making the 12-driver cutoff for the next stage.
Harvick and Jones finished in 39th and 40th, respectively.
Two more playoff drivers wrecked later in the race, which could be a saving grace for Harvick and/or Jones.
On Lap 213, Chase Elliott crashed into the back of Jamie McMurray after McMurray blew a tire en route to a 35th-place finish. According to ESPN.com’s Bob Pockrass, Elliott said his shoulder popped out during the wreck but that he doesn’t expect to require further attention to the injury.
Denny Hamlin then went out on Lap 247. He spun out and then damaged his car beyond repair when he drove into the infield grass:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
Ride along with Denny Hamlin as he crashes in the grass.
#NASCARPlayoffs, you fail to disappoint. https://t.co/7IMkNiXXup
As if that wasn’t enough, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Alex Bowman all experienced issues that saw them slip down the leaderboard. The trio at least managed to finish the race.
If Sunday was any indication, plenty of twists and turns are in store for the 2018 playoffs.