After the completion of the Round of 16 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, Brad Keselowski was arguably one of the hottest drivers in the series. The Team Penske driver had five top five finishes in his last six races of the season in his No. 2 Ford and headed towards the second round of the postseason with some much needed momentum.
Unfortunately, the 2012 series champion leaves the Round of 12 no longer eligible for championship contention. For the second time in the last three years, Keselowski was bounced from the playoffs in the Round of 12.
It was a terrible round for him. Keselowski was lucky to be sitting where he was in the playoffs heading into Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at the Kansas Speedway. He entered this round +19 but somehow gained a point on the playoff bubble following an 11th place finish in the opening race of the Round of 12 at Dover. Then, he was involved in a crash in this past Monday’s rain delayed race at Talladega which left him with a 25th place result. Still, he didn’t lose any ground and came into the cutoff race +20 on the playoff bubble.
Keselowski, won the spring race at Kansas and thought that he escaped some potential dangers through the first two races. He even scored five stage points in the opening stage in Sunday’s race following a sixth place finish.
But, in the second stage is where it all went wrong. Keselowski, had contact with Erik Jones on the Lap 120 restart and he in turn was fighting a bad handling race car for the rest of the way.
Keselowski, was 16th at the second stage break but still help a 14 point lead on Chase Elliott for the 14th and final spot. All he had to do was finish no worse than 14 spots behind than Elliott when the checkered flag flew and he’d move onto the Round of 8. Instead, he ended up falling a lap down with 40 to go and saw his hopes really hindered.
Despite that, Elliott was fading a bit too and running eighth while Keselowski was battling for 18th, 19th and 20th. It was going to be close.
The closing stages still looked like he would be in. Then, his teammate Ryan Blaney got into the Turn 4 wall which changed everything with 15 laps-to-go in regulation. The leaders were able to come to pit road to get new tires. Keselowski, was pinned a lap down and couldn’t. He had to take the wave around to get back on the lead lap which meant no pit stop.
Four of the top five drivers in the running order took just two tires, everyone else including Elliott took four. Keselowski, was back on the lead lap but with old tires. He was in trouble.
It ended up working against him. Elliott, charged up the field and got as high as second. Keselowski, was on the outside looking in. Then, as luck may have it, Darrell Wallace Jr. saw a tire completely come off of his car and collected rookie Matt Tifft in a bizarre crash on Lap 263. It was the break Keselowski needed. The cars that took the wave around hit pit lane. Keselowski, gained spots now even with taking four new tires as he went from 18th to 15th and went from the outside looking in to +1.
In the first overtime, Keselowski was still good as Elliott at that point had to win. But, Daniel Suarez and himself made contact exiting Turn 4 which sent Suarez spinning up into Daniel Hemric and bringing out the seventh and final caution. Joey Logano was also collected as it now looked like the final spot was going to come down to Logano vs. Elliott.
But, on the final restart in the second overtime, Keselowski’s car dropped like an anchor as he went from a top 15 to finishing 19th. Elliott, would finish second, Logano 17th. It was Keselowski, three points arrears to Elliott who was eliminated.
Keselowski, hasn’t won a race since Kansas in May which that in turn cost him a shot at the Round of 8. Another win, would have given him five more playoff points which would have meant he was +2 instead of -3 at the conclusion of Sunday’s race.