LAS VEGAS – It took ‘em three and a half hours to get this one in the books but when the smoke cleared Brad Keselowski was back in victory lane.
For a third consecutive time in NASCAR’s Monster Energy Cup Series.
A big deal? Yeah, it was that.
Big in an “it’s extremely difficult to win a single race” way.
OK, others have done as much – Kevin Harvick won three nearly before the season began; Kyle Busch won three in a row before April turned to May.
Their accomplishments were no less impressive.
Sunday’s South Point 400 here at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was the opening race in the 10-race Playoffs and the first time the track had hosted the event. It was 100 degrees outside the cars and hotter inside them and that ought to be enough to make folks consider running this race under the lights in the future.
But it’s the South Point 400 and South Point is a casino and casino folks don’t want race fans at a race track at night. They want them racing to the craps tables and roulette wheels and other assorted games of chance.
If you sat in the grandstands for this one you were a true fan.
Meanwhile, before Sunday’s victory, Keselowski had won in what was a rain-postponed event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Before that, it was the Southern 500 at unforgiving ol’ Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
Keselowski, the 2012 series champ, was winless this year until his recent turn of good fortune. Now the Team Penske driver has won three straight and 27 overall, and his No. 2 Ford has gone from a playoff entry to a lock for the second round.
“We probably weren’t the best today with respect to being the fastest car,” Keselowski, 34, said. “But my team was the best today with respect to executing on the pit stops, putting us in a position to control the race and then getting through the chaos … over the last 20 or 30 laps.”
It’s something the team hadn’t been able to do, he said, before the streak began. Even as it unfolded, “we weren’t good enough to just dominate a race.
“It took a total team effort and that’s what our guys delivered here today.”
Martin Truex Jr., the defending series champion and a guy who until now had not lost a playoff opener since 2015, led the most laps and figures he had the best car. His No. 78 Toyota paced the field for 96 laps in what turned out to be a 272-lap race instead of 267.
“Three races in a row he’s won and he has not had the best car,” Truex Jr. said of Sunday’s winner. Truex wasn’t bitter. He wasn’t happy but he wasn’t bitter.
“Obviously he hasn’t led the most laps in any of those races and he showed up at the end with good pit stops and good short run speed,” he said. “I think it’s pretty obvious how it worked out. He’s hot right now. He’s on a streak. That’s the way it goes.
“We finished third with the best car.”
But the best car doesn’t always win in NASCAR. Maybe it rarely does, heck, who knows?
Sometimes it takes the best car and the best pit crew and the best driver and the best strategy … and sometimes you have all that and you still don’t win.
But sometimes you have part of it or most of it or just enough of it and at the time that’s all that matters.
Keselowski’s was the best when it counted and when there were four caution periods, including one red flag, in the final 20 laps you had to figure that best car or not, whoever won this thing certainly deserved it.
Keselowski, as much as anyone, did.
It was a harsh day for Playoff participants – exactly one half finished a lap or more down. Trouble swept up Harvick and pole winner Erik Jones and Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin and Fords and Chevrolets and Toyotas alike.
It was Las Vegas and it was hot and Brad Keselowski won again.
That’s the simple explanation. Over in the garage where they were loading up what was left of cars and over by the care center where drivers were being evaluated and eventually released, simple didn’t quite cover it.