Victory Lap at Las Vegas     Source

"I didn’t think it was ever gonna end." - Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski survives a series of re-starts and overtime to win the first race of the playoffs at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

No doubt about it, Brad Keselowski is the hottest driver in NASCAR. Keselowski captured his third straight checkered flag Sunday by winning the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The win, which is the 500th victory for Team Penske across all racing series, punches Keselowski's ticket to the second round of the NASCAR playoffs.

"To start off the playoffs with a win, that's really strong, let alone three in a row," said Keselwoski. "We nailed the pit stops and the restarts when it counted, and we were strong."

Extremely dry 99-degree weather conditions led to a slick track which created a myriad of problems for drivers and turned the race into a war of attrition. The race was plagued by 12 yellow flag cautions due to tire issues causing various cars to slam into the wall or go flying through the infield grass. 5 of those cautions occurred in the last 40 laps.

Much like last week at Indianapolis Keselowski probably didn't have the fastest car, but he turned all the cautions into an advantage with a combination of fast pit-stops and superior re-starts. It certainly didn't hurt that his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano was also re-starting near the front to help block the competition. Logano was battling for the win with several laps remaining when Keselowski was finally able to pull into a comfortable lead and seemed to have the race in hand with two laps to go. One last wreck involving David Ragan and Michael McDowell forced the race into overtime. Keselowski once again aced the re-start to drive away from the field and bring home the victory.

"We’re so glad to be able to win and get in Victory Lane again with the Autotrader Ford," said Keselowski. "What a special day for 500 wins for Penske, three in a row here, first win in the Playoffs. There are too many storylines for me to get it all right, but we’re very thankful and very proud for all of them."

Hard luck Kyle Larson crossed the finish line in second place, his sixth runner-up finish of the season without a win to his credit. Trouble with re-starts has been a problem for Larson throughout his career and the plethora of yellow flags in the race's closing moments did not do him any favors.

"Yeah, the restarts a couple of them worked out for me and a couple of them didn’t," said Larson. "But, was happy to end up second there. Didn’t really expect to get to second there on that final restart, but it was pretty hectic. Just glad we had a good day after the tire issue we had early in the race. So, yeah, good points day."

Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney round out the top-five. Truex was the winner of Stage One, while Keselowski captured the checkered green for Stage Two. Each driver earned a valuable playoff point for their Stage wins.

The Chase For The Cup

The South Point 400 was the first of three races which make-up the first elimination round of the NASCAR playoffs. The field of 16 drivers will be cut to 12 after the third race. Brad Keselowski's win guarantees he will advance to the second round. Overall it was an ugly day for the playoff field as nine of the sixteen drivers were involved in accidents.

Kevin Harvick blew a tire on Lap 148 and crashed into the outside wall. Erik Jones was following behind Harvick and crashed right into his car. The accident ended the day for both drivers with Harvick finishing in 39th place and Jones finishing dead last in 40th place. Because of his large point lead entering the playoffs, Harvick is still in fourth place in the playoff standings, but Jones dropped to 15th and is in danger of being eliminated in the first round.

Harvick was not happy about the tire situation after the race.

"It’s like Russian roulette every time you put these piece of crap tires on and try to drive around the race track. One time it’s tight, one time it’s loose, one time they’re blistered. We had a great car and then you put a set of tires on and you can’t even hardly make it through the field."

On Lap 212 non-playoff driver Jamie McMurray hit the wall after losing a tire and took out Chase Elliott in the wreck. Elliott's day was done with a 36th place finish. Elliott drops into 14th place in the playoff standings and will need strong finishes in the next two races to avoid elimination. The same can be said for Denny Hamlin, who spun out into the wall on Lap 247 and finished in 32nd place. Hamlin drops into 16th and last place in the playoff standings.

A multi-car accident on Lap 257 involved several playoff contenders. Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch all received damage in the wreck, but were able to finish the race. Kurt Busch still comfortably sits in sixth place in the playoff standings, but the others are all hovering around the elimination line.

Kyle Busch was the last playoff driver to sustain damage when he made contact with the retaining wall and spun out through the infield grass late in the race. Busch was able to stay in the race and finished in seventh place. He sits in second place in the playoff standings.

Current Playoff Standings

The next two races at Richmond and Charlotte will complete the first elimination round of the playoffs. The top 12 drivers will advance to round two. Race winners in each round are guaranteed to advance to the next round.

16 #11 Denny Hamlin 2008

15 #20 Erik Jones 2009

14 #9 Chase Elliott 2019

13 #48 Jimmie Johnson 2022

12 #88 Alex Bowman 2028

11 #14 Clint Bowyer 2029

10 #3 Austin Dillon 2031

9 #10 Aric Almirola 2034

8 #42 Kyle Larson 2041

7 #12 Ryan Blaney 2042

6 #41 Kurt Busch 2046

5 #22 Joey Logano 2056

4 #4 Kevin Harvick 2060

3 #2 Brad Keselowski 2075*   Las Vegas winner. Automatically advances to round two.   

2 #18 Kyle Busch 2085

1 #78 Martin Truex 2088

The Next Race

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs continue in Virginia next week with the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway. The race will be run on Saturday September 22 at 7:30 p.m. EST on the NBC Sports Network.