Brad Keselowski and crew kissing the bricks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway    Source

"Grimy never tasted so good." - Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski "kisses the bricks" at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after thundering by Denny Hamlin to claim the checkered flag at the Brickyard 400

Two weeks ago Brad Keselowski was limping into the playoffs with one of the weakest starts to a season in his career. After the running of the rain delayed Brickyard 400 on Monday, Keselowski is roaring into the playoffs as the hottest driver on the NASCAR circuit. Keselowski took advantage of fresher tires to bump Denny Hamlin out of the way on the second to last lap to win the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard one week after winning the Southern 500.

"It’s incredible, last year I lost this race almost exactly the same way," said Keselowski.

Denny Hamlin seemed to have the race in hand heading into the final laps after out dueling Clint Bowyer for the lead. He was pulling away from the field in the clean air when Landon Cassill and Jeffrey Earnhardt tangled together in a wreck which brought out the yellow flag. The race re-started with only three laps to go and Hamlin once again sped into the lead, but Keselowski quickly raced up to his rear with his fresher tires. Keselowski patiently followed Hamlin around the track waiting for an opening. Once he saw it, Keselowski drove along side of Hamlin and bumped into him twice to move him out of the way. Keselowski took off with the race lead as the white flag was dropped, while Erik Jones took advantage of the leaders momentum-killing side drafting to race up and move around Hamlin. The checkered flag waved with Keselowski taking the win, Jones coming next behind him and Hamlin crossing the bricks in third place.

"I gotta give credit where credit is due," said Keselowski. "My crew chief, Paul Wolfe, made a heck of a call to pit there late in that run and the yellow came out and we had new tires and started eighth and it was kind of like it gave me the ball. You know how that goes. I had to make a play. I knew it was going to be tough. We weren’t a dominant car by any means but Paul and everyone executed an incredible race. I just had to do my job and here I am in victory lane at the Brickyard. Man, I wish RP (Roger Penske) was here. I know he is watching at home. What a day!"

The victory is the first for Keselowski at Indianapolis and the 26th Cup Series win of his career. It's also the first Cup Series win at Indianapolis for Team Penske Racing. Team Penske has won 17 Indianapolis 500 races, more than any other organization in Indy Car racing.

"It feels really good to get Roger Penske his first Cup car win here at the Brickyard. It’s an incredible feeling and I’m so happy for Team Penske."

The win is also the first for a Ford driver at Indianapolis since 1999 when Dale Jarrett claimed the checkered flag.

Denny Hamlin was frustrated after the race that a late yellow flag caused by non-contending drivers seemed to steal his victory away from him.

"I had the race pretty well in hand. Landon Cassill wrecked for no apparent reason at the end and then we just got roughed up by the 2 (Brad Keselowski) there at the end – on new tires. Very unfortunate, but that’s the way it goes sometimes. Sometimes cautions don’t fall your way. We were able to survive the first few, but allowed those guys to – with all those cautions and meaningless wrecks – to the guys on new tires to be right on us and that’s what happened."

Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer round out the top-five. Bowyer and Hamlin each led a race high 37 laps. Clint Bowyer was the winner of Stage One, while Matt Kenseth took the checkered green for Stage Two. Each driver earned a bonus point for the postseason, but in Kenseth's case it's all for naught as the part-time driver did not qualify for the playoffs.

End of the Regular Season

Kyle Busch and family    Source

The conclusion of the race also marked the conclusion of the NASCAR Cup Series regular season. With his eight place finish, Kyle Busch officially won the regular season championship. He earned 15 bonus points for the playoffs with his title.

"We had a lot of ups and downs, mostly downs but fought our way back," said Busch. "In the grand scheme of things it was a pretty good day considering we get to go home with some hardware."

The last two playoff spots were claimed by Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman by virtue of points scored throughout the season.

The Playoffs are Set

The regular season is over and the field of sixteen drivers for the postseason has been set. Each qualifying driver's points have been re-set to 2,000 and all bonus points earned during the season have been added to that total. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick sit atop the standings with 2,050 points apiece.

  1. Kyle Busch             2,050                                                 
  2. Kevin  Harvick       2,050                                            
  3. Martin Truex Jr.    2,035                                        
  4. Brad Keselowski   2,019 
  5. Clint Bowyer          2,015
  6. Joey Logano         2,014     
  7. Kurt Busch            2,014  
  8. Chase Elliott         2,008
  9. Ryan Blaney          2,007
  10. Erik Jones             2,005
  11. Austin Dillon         2,005
  12. Kyle Larson           2,005
  13. Denny Hamlin       2,003
  14. Aric Almirola         2,001
  15. Jimmie Johnson  2,000
  16. Alex Bowman       2,000                         

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin in Las Vegas next week with the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.