Story courtesy of Hunter Thomas. See his work and more at The Fourth Turn
LAS VEGAS, Nev. – In the closing laps of Sunday's Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. passed Brad Keselowski with just two laps to go en route to winning his first race of the season.
Truex Jr. started second in the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER BOATS Toyota Camry, but he went on to win Stages 1 and 2. Throughout the afternoon, he dominated by leading on six occasions for a race high of 150 laps.
"It's been a good start to the year for us," Truex Jr. said. "We had a solid day at Daytona and ran out of gas. Had a solid day at Atlanta and had some issues that cost us some spots. We've been solid and this is a brand new 2018 Toyota Camry for us, so it's been a little bit to learn. It's been a bit different and we're still learning so hopefully we'll continue to grow and get better."
Although Truex Jr. put on a dominate performance, his eight-career series win didn't come so easily. Pole-sitter, Brad Keselowski, passed Truex Jr. for the race lead on lap 244, and it appeared that he was going to run away with the win, but Danica Patrick's car went up in smoke, bringing out the six and final caution of the afternoon on lap 253. On the restart, Keselowski jumped out in front of the field, but something went amiss on the Team Penske No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion. Keselowski's car slowed down, and Truex Jr. was able to get around him to lead the final two laps of the 267-lap race.
"I was out of control and Brad was really good on the long run," Truex Jr. said. "I hate that he had problems, he was strong and we weren't going to do anything with him, but then he lost the brakes or something. A little bit of a gift, but we have given some away, so it feels good to come out on the good end for once."
Coming to the finish, the battle to stay inside the top-five was intense for all of the top running drivers behind Truex Jr. As Keselowski's car continued to fade, everyone scrambled to get around him. Kyle Larson finished second, while Chase Elliott was able to solidify a third-place finish.
"I just know it was something major," said Keselowski about the mechanical failure he experienced in the closing laps on Sunday. "It wouldn't turn and I lost brakes, so that's a pretty good indicator, but that's the way it goes. That's racing and that's why you watch until the end and you never know what's gonna happen."
Joey Logano, who was running fifth, got loose underneath Kyle Busch in Turn 4 while the two drivers battled each other coming to the checkered flag. Logano made contact with Busch, but he held on for a fourth-place finish. Busch spun onto pit road and limped across the finish line in 22nd. After the race, Busch walked up to Logano and started swinging towards his face. The No. 22 Pennzoil Ford team then jumped onto Busch, and they wrestled him to the ground. The altercation was quickly broken up by NASCAR.
"There wasn't much talking, there was a lot of swinging," said Logano after the pit road brawl. "I don't know. I was racing hard there at the end with our Pennzoil Ford. Kyle and I usually race really well together. We usually never have any issues, and he tried to pin me down into the corner underneath Brad and we about crashed on entry, and then I was still trying to gather it up by the center and I was gonna spin out, so I'm trying to chase it up and he was there. It obviously wasn't anything intentional, but obviously he thinks that, so, I don't know, we'll get by."
As Busch walked away with a bloody forehead, he gave a brief comment to FOX Sports. Busch said, "I got dumped. Flat out just drove straight into the corner and wrecked me.
"That's how Joey races, so he's going to get it."
Brad Keselowski held on for a fifth-place finish. Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer completed the top-10.
The Kobalt 400 only saw six cautions, and two of them were to conclude Stages 1 and 2. The most notable caution came out on lap 70, when Kevin Harvick blew a right front tire. Harvick was running down the frontstretch when the tire let go. His Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Mobile 1 Annual Protection Ford Fusion went hard into the outside wall as he began to enter Turn 1.
"It started vibrating about four or five laps there before it blew out, and I was just trying to ride it to the end of the stage there," Harvick said. "Obviously, it didn't make it."
Throughout the afternoon, there were 14 lead changes among six drivers. Truex Jr. led the most laps (150), and Brad Keselowski led 89 laps, the second most on Sunday. Truex Jr. became the first driver to win all three stages in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race this season.
Despite a disappointing finish, Brad Keselowski leads the standings by one point over Kyle Larson. Chase Elliott is third, only three points behind. Race winner, Martin Truex Jr., is fourth, five points back and Joey Logano rounds out the top-five, 13 points back from the lead.