Right place, right time. Sometimes that’s all it takes to win at Darlington Raceway.
For Brad Keselowski, right place, right time was his ticket to his first-ever win at the famous “Lady in Black”, taking advantage of the race leaders taking each other out to win Saturday’s Sports Clips Haircuts VFW 200 NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Darlington.
After an earlier bobble that cost him the lead, Keselowski grabbed the lead for good after race leader Ross Chastain and second-place Kevin Harvick tangled on the backstretch while battling for the top spot with 32 laps to go. Keselowski restarted in the lead and never looked back, beating out Cole Custer by 0.738 Seconds.
Finishing out the top five were Tyler Reddick, Denny Hamlin and Elliott Sadler.
The victory was the first for Keselowski at Darlington in any of NASCAR’s major touring series, topping his previous best finish of second in the Cup Series race back in September of 2015.
“I could keep up with Ross (Chastain), but I couldn’t pass him,” said Keselowski. “I tried to make the move to get by him and I just brushed the wall and him and Kevin (Harvick) got back by me and then they had their issue off of two and were just so strong that we pounced on it and took advantage of the opportunity. That’s a testament to this team. I drove five races this year and we’ve won three of them. That’s pretty darn good and I’m really proud of that.
“It means a lot to me. This has been a track where I started my career very well with the Cup car here and had some great runs, and then the last half-dozen races I think I’ve ran here have gone quite awful. I’m trying to figure out why that is and running this race certainly helps. It’s nice to be able to check this track off, like you said, and I think I have one track left back through the circuit with Sonoma and I’m hungry to win there.”
Although Keselowski had been in the top five all afternoon, Chastain had been the class of the field since the drop of the green flag.
Starting on the pole for the first time in 130 Xfinity Series starts, Chastain led 74 of the opening 96 laps to sweep both of the first of two 45-lap stages with Harvick and Keselowski following closely behind in the top five.
At the start of the final 57-lap stage, Chastain had a mirror-full of Keselowski as the Cup Series regular began reeling Chastain’s No. 42 Chevrolet as they tried to tread their way through lapped traffic.
After chasing him down for 15 laps, Keselowski managed to pull ahead of Chastain but brushed the wall in turn three, allowing Chastain to retake the top spot and Harvick to slip into second place.
On lap 111, Chastain got hung up behind the lapped car of Chad Finchum and tried to make a pass to the inside, but Harvick was already there hugging the yellow line, using the lapped car as a pick to force Chastain off the gas.
Chastain refused to give an inch, and neither did Harvick, as the two cleared Finchum and flew into turn two side-by-side. Harvick’s car pushed up and into Chastain, pinching him against the outside wall. Chastain bounced off the wall and then drove into Harvick’s right-rear, sending Harvick’s No. 98 Ford around and into the wall.
Harvick was done for the day, and Chastain suffered enough damage to put to an end any chance he had of winning. Meanwhile, Keselowski had quietly slipped past on the inside and into the lead.
After the incident, both drivers had their own take on who was at fault.
“That’s just a really inexperienced racer and a really bad move there and got the air and got on beside me and just kept going up the race track. I couldn’t do anything with the wheel,” said Harvick. “So, you’ve got a really inexperienced guy in a really fast car and made a really bad move, and then wrecked me down the back straightaway and hooked me to the right. That’s probably the reason that he’ll never get to drive many of them again.”
Chastain, who managed to limp home in 25th spot, felt he had raced Harvick clean.
“I’m just trying to race. If I made a mistake, it’s on me,” said Chastain. “Being the (race) leader I thought like we’re just trying to race. We’d given each other room all day.”
Saturday’s race had serious implications on the Xfinity Series playoffs with just two races remaining in the Xfinity “regular season”, as rookie Austin Cindric dropped from 10th to 11th following his second straight DNF and puts him within striking distance of Michael Annett who sits 54 points behind the 12th and final spot in the playoff field.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Race
Darlington Raceway – Darlington, S.C.
Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 -September 1, 2018
1. (9) Brad Keselowski(i), Ford, 147.
2. (6) Cole Custer, Ford, 147.
3. (3) Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, 147.
4. (5) Denny Hamlin(i), Toyota, 147.
5. (8) Elliott Sadler, Chevrolet, 147.
6. (38) Chase Elliott(i), Chevrolet, 147.
7. (10) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 147.
8. (16) Matt Tifft, Chevrolet, 147.
9. (12) Ty Dillon(i), Chevrolet, 147.
10. (15) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 147.
11. (4) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 147.
12. (39) Brandon Jones, Toyota, 147.
13. (14) Ryan Reed, Ford, 147.
14. (21) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 147.
15. (13) Ryan Truex, Chevrolet, 147.
16. (17) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 147.
17. (23) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 147.
18. (24) Brandon Brown, Chevrolet, 147.
19. (18) Alex Labbe #, Chevrolet, 146.
20. (20) Garrett Smithley, Chevrolet, 146.
21. (19) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 146.
22. (25) Tommy Joe Martins, Chevrolet, 146.
23. (29) B.J. McLeod, Chevrolet, 146.
24. (32) Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, 145.
25. (1) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 145.
26. (30) Bayley Currey(i), Toyota, 135.
27. (35) Mike Harmon, Chevrolet, 131.
28. (40) Josh Bilicki #, Toyota, 128.
29. (7) Kevin Harvick(i), Ford, Accident, 111.
30. (22) J.J. Yeley, Chevrolet, Electrical, 99.
31. (31) Spencer Boyd #, Chevrolet, 95.
32. (37) Chad Finchum #, Chevrolet, 90.
33. (34) Carl Long, Dodge, Brakes, 67.
34. (2) Christopher Bell #, Toyota, Accident, 65.
35. (27) Timmy Hill, Toyota, Vibration, 54.
36. (28) David Starr, Chevrolet, Engine, 40.
37. (26) Vinnie Miller #, Chevrolet, Suspension, 32.
38. (33) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Handling, 24.
39. (36) Jeff Green, Chevrolet, Transmission, 13.
40. (11) Austin Cindric #, Ford, Accident, 2.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 111.179 mph.
Time of Race: 1 Hrs, 48 Mins, 22 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.738 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 6 for 30 laps.
Lead Changes: 10 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders: R. Chastain 1-48; J. Yeley 49; R. Chastain 50-52; K. Harvick(i) 53-70; R. Chastain 71-93; J. Yeley 94-95; R. Chastain 96-110; B. Keselowski(i) 111-112; R. Chastain 113; T. Martins 114; B. Keselowski(i) 115-147.
Leaders Summary: (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led) R. Chastain 5 times for 90 laps; B. Keselowski(i) 2 times for 35 laps; K. Harvick(i) 1 time for 18 laps; J. Yeley 2 times for 3 laps; T. Martins 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 42,20,98,9,7,21,1,22,18,23
Stage #2 Top Ten: 42,22,98,7,9,18,00,1,23,21
Top 10 in Points: 1. Justin Allgaier – 888 (4 Wins); 2. Elliott Sadler – 872; 3. Cole Custer – 871; 4. Christopher Bell – 852 (4 Wins); 5. Daniel Hemric – 844; 6. Tyler Reddick – 693 (1 Win); 7. Brandon Jones – 687; 8. Matt Tifft – 663; 9. Ryan Truex – 660; 10. Ryan Reed – 559.