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Penalty report from Kansas Speedway

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NASCAR has issued fines to two Cup Series crew chiefs for unsecured lug nuts during the Kansas Speedway race weekend.

Paul Wolfe, crew chief for race winner Brad Keselowski, and Peter Sospenzo, crew chief on Quin Houff‘s No. 77 car, were each fined $10,000 for having one unsecured lug nut each.

There were no other penalties.

Brad Keselowski: ‘Nighttime is the new daytime’ with new rules package

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What a difference a week makes.

Five days after multiple drivers were critical of the Cup Series rules package and its impact on competition at Dover International Speedway, the strongest negative comments after Saturday’s Kansas race were about blocking.

The Digital Ally 400 saw a frenzy of action in its final stage as four drivers swapped the lead over the last 43 laps, with Brad Keselowski leading the final 11 laps.

The race also experienced 41 green flag passes for the lead, a track record, and 3,448 overall passes, more than twice the number in last year’s race. Those passes included multiple instances of three-wide and even four-wide racing at times on restarts.

With the race held under the lights and in 50-degree weather, Keselowski said he expected racing to be side-by-side.

The Team Penske driver said this year’s rule package has flipped the script on what to expect from night races.

“I think I told somebody today that it used to be we wanted daytime races because it fit the rules,” Keselowski said after his win. “Now it’s the opposite. Nighttime is the new daytime for NASCAR as far as the racing being better … because it gives you the grip to be able to take advantage of what this car or rules setup is designed for.

“With it being cool temperatures and being a night race, I think that’s exactly what we saw, and that’s part of why the cars were double file a lot of times in a race where normally they wouldn’t be.”

Erik Jones, who finished third, said Saturday’s race “was the closest iteration that NASCAR is … shooting for. We were very close to wide open and there was definitely some pack racing moments after the restarts and stuff like that. Both of those things combined lent to that.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, believes the rules package’s “body of work” on the intermediate tracks like Kansas “kind of speaks for itself.”

O’Donnell made his comments Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.”

“When you look at apples to apples of Vegas and that race and Texas and Kansas, I think we’ve certainly proven that the data that we came into this rules package with at the intermediate tracks has proven out,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell said data from the race weekend matched up with what NASCAR had seen in CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) data and testing.

“When we started practice we were spot on, on- and off-throttle time matched up with what we thought as well,” O’Donnell said. “Then you look at past races and surprisingly the Kansas spring race last year played out almost exactly like this year. We had a competition caution on Lap 30 here. You got a caution on roughly Lap 30 in the spring last year. Same thing with green flag pit stops. The data when you compare it from this year to last year is kind of apples to apples, which is good for us. It showed some definite progress.”

What Cup drivers said after Digital Ally 400 at Kansas

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Brad Keselowski – winner: “We were just too loose early and then in the traffic I brushed the wall a little bit and we couldn’t get it tightened up and finally with about 100 to go (crew chief) Paul Wolfe and the team made some adjustments and the car responded. I felt we were a top-three or top-five car but then the yellow came out right as we came to pit road and I thought we would have to claw to get a top 10. We clawed and clawed and a couple opportunities presented themselves and we were fighting for the lead. Alex Bowman ran an incredible race. I feel kind of bad. I think I kinda stole one from him. He was one of the best cars, him and Kevin Harvick. We just had a little fresher tires and I was able to catch the traffic just right to make the move on him and from there we were able to get the win.”

Alex Bowman – finished second: “We had a really good car, I just made bad decisions going through lap traffic on lane choice. They stayed where I needed to run. I should have gone high and I shouldn’t have picked the middle like I did. I just had to lift and let (Keselowski) and (Erik Jones) drive right around me. I’m pretty frustrated with myself. There was no way around that, that was a bad mistake on my part. We’ll go home and get them next week.”

Erik Jones – finished third: “It was kind of all over the map. When it started, we were kind of off and then we got better. Then we got off again and got better at the end. It was a good night and it was nice to have a shot at the win. The DeWalt Camry was for sure capable of winning. We just weren’t in the right situation and didn’t have some runs work out and the caution at the end. Just didn’t have the right push. Not a lot more you can ask for other than the win. Everybody did a great job, but it’s good momentum going on to two weeks now having good runs and having shots to run up front, it’s been nice after a rough month. Hopefully we can keep it going.”

Chase Elliott – finished fourth: “It was OK. It was nice running top five. I hate to have been leading the laps that we did and not finish it off, but what do you do. It was unfortunate.”

Clint Bowyer – finished fifth: “Tonight wasn’t as good as I thought it was going to be. We struggled. We struggled with handling, especially as soon as the night fell and it got dark outside we were not handling at all. It was tight and it was loose and on top of the race track. With two stops to go we came in and raised the back of the car up and we got better in traffic and were able to race. Then all hell broke loose on the restart and things like that. It was tires, no tires, two tires. Everyone was on different strategies, people were a lap down that should have been up front. It was hard to even figure out who you were racing. We should have finished second. I had a huge run on both those guys but that kid, I guess he was willing to wreck himself to hold the position.”

Jimmie Johnson – finished sixth: “The first three-quarters of the race was pretty awful for us. But, the guys kept their head in the game and made some big adjustments and made some good adjustments and we got back in the mix. We’re still missing some speed though. So, we’ve still got plenty of work to do. I’m pretty frustrated and we’ve got to try to get on top of things. That’s the bottom line.”

Kurt Busch – finished seventh: “It feels like when the sun was out, our car had grip and I could make moves and make aggressive passes and then as the sun went down and each of our adjustments, I was just struggling for grip as the track got cooler. So, it doesn’t quite make sense. We did battle for good stage points today. I think we were like fifth, seventh, and seventh. But overall, our car was real racey early. So, thanks to my crew and the set up and everything that (crew chief) Matt Mccall is doing, normally we get better as the race goes on. Today was not the case. We just kind of plateaued and stayed there and I think others got better grip at the end or maybe we didn’t quite get it exactly racey enough. Literally, I was just kind of stuck in one groove at the end.”

Kyle Larson – finished eighth: “I feel like the Hendrick guys are really close to winning right now. I don’t feel like I’m close to winning yet. I feel like I’ve had eighth to 12th-place car speed all year long, I just haven’t gotten the finisher. The last couple of weeks we’ve finally got to finish some races where we deserve. We still have a lot of room to improve, but it is nice to see some Chevy’s up there.”

Tyler Reddick – finished ninth: “We are very fortunate to have a lot of cars that were trapped down a lap or two. It honestly saved us from having a pretty unfortunate finish to how good we were at times throughout the race. I think we could have definitely had a little more there with the way the situation played out. From that aspect, it’s disappointing, but a top ten has a lot of positives. It was a lot of fun driving the car. It was a unique opportunity. I always want more. I’ve raced against some of these guys in the Xfinity Series. It’s still a lot of fun to finish in the top ten, but we didn’t come here to run top ten. We can here for the win.”

Chris Buescher – finished 10th: “It was really fun all day. This group did a fantastic job this week. We knew we had a good car. I’m not complaining about the system, I loved it. We did not qualify as good as we wanted to, but it was something that we sacrificed to be able to go out there and run up there. We did not need that caution at the end, that definitely made it hard to get going for the first two laps. After that, we were really solid. I had a lot of fun. I always love Kansas. This has been a really good track for me over the years. We always put on a good show. We are pretty happy with that.”

Aric Almirola – finished 12th: “We had a fast Smithfield Ford Mustang to start the race. We drove from the back all the way up to the top five but couldn’t seem to find that speed for the rest of the race. We’ll keep working hard to improve each weekend.”

Ty Dillon – finished 13th: “This just wasn’t our day. We decided to run a setup similar to our Texas car that ran well back in March after practice didn’t go how we wanted it to. Our GEICO Camaro ZL1 qualified well with it, but we weren’t quite sure what it would do during the race because all of the intermediate tracks are just so different from each other. It started off a little loose, but my team made great adjustments when they had the opportunity and I was really happy with my car by the end of Stage 2. I wish we could have gotten a better finish, but we will take this as a learning night and be ready to come back in the fall.”

 

Brad Keselowski wins Kansas Cup race in overtime

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Brad Keselowski won Saturday night’s Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway in an overtime finish, claiming his third win of the season.

Keselowski triumphed in the two-lap shootout over Alex Bowman, Erik Jones, Chase Elliott and Clint Bowyer.

The overtime finish was caused by Matt DiBenedetto‘s engine expiring with four laps left in the scheduled distance.

Keselowski took the lead three laps before that with a pass of Alex Bowman on the outside in Turn 3.

Bowman led 63 laps and has finished second in the last three races.

“That restart, we just got a great launch,” Keselowski told Fox Sports 1. “Alex Bowman, I tell you he’s going to win a race. He did a great job today. We just a had a little bit fresher tires than he did.”

Keselowski dedicated his win to Mike Mittler, a long-time Truck Series owner who passed away Friday.

“He helped a lot of guys in their career and I was one of them,” Keselowski said. “He was local to here and he passed away yesterday. Just such a huge loss for the NASCAR community. He’s one of those unsung heroes that works in the garage, gave his whole to this sport. … Hurts to see those guys go away.”

Kyle Busch had to pit for a tire rub with 21 laps to go. He finished 30th, ending his stretch of races to start the season with a top-10 finish at 11 races.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kevin Harvick

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott

Click here for results and point standings.

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Erik Jones finished third to match his best finish of the year (Daytona 500) … Chase Elliott earned his third straight top five, tying him with Alex Bowman for the best active streak … Clint Bowyer earned his first Kansas top five since April 2014 …. Tyler Reddick placed ninth for his first career Cup top 10 in just his second start.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kevin Harvick had the car to beat until he had to pit unexpectedly with 88 laps to go for an issue with his right-side tires. But crew chief Rodney Childers said no problem was found. After leading 104 laps, Harvick placed 13th … Denny Hamlin spun on his own in Stage 1 and was never competitive. He finished 16th … Ryan Blaney placed 32nd after he made contact with the wall in the final stage and had to pit for repairs.

NOTABLE: Alex Bowman is the first winless driver to finish second in three straight races … Brad Keselowski earned his 30th Cup win, tying him with Kurt Busch for 26th all time … The cars of Keselowski and Quin Houff each had on unsecured lug nut after the race.

WHAT’S NEXT: Monster Energy Open/All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway at 6 p.m. ET on May 18 on Fox Sports 1

Alex Bowman finishes runner-up for third straight race, leads Hendrick onslaught

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So close – yet again.

Alex Bowman finished runner-up for the third consecutive Cup race in Saturday night’s Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway.

In doing so, Bowman — who also finished second at Talladega and Dover — becomes the first driver in NASCAR history to finish second in three straight races before earning a first career Cup win.

I’m not very proud of myself on lane choice there at the end,” Bowman, who led 63 laps, told Fox Sports 1. “I just made some bad decisions and never really should have given the 2 car (race winner Brad Keselowski) a chance at it. But just made some bad calls late through lapped traffic, got tied off, had to lift and the 2 was able to drive around us.”

But Bowman said there is some consolation in finishing second yet again.

I’m really proud of everybody at Hendrick Motorsports,” he told FS1. “Our race cars are so much better than what we started the season with. … I wish we were standing here with three wins in a row but we’ll keep digging next week to try and get in the All-Star (Race), win the All-Star and then go try to win the (Coca-Cola) 600.”

Statistically, Bowman now has a finishing average of 2.0 over the last three races.

Bowman was one of three HMS drivers to finish in the top six in Saturday’s race. Chase Elliott was fourth and Jimmie Johnson sixth.

Our car was good, just not great,” Elliott told FS1. “At the restarts on the end, it was just hard to get away and hard to break free.

But it was a solid effort and great to race a teammate for the lead. I think that’s signs of progress. Hopefully, we can keep going in that direction. I hate to give it away to somebody else. He and I were pacing it at the end, but it happens and that’s racing and we’ll just work harder and try to get it next time.”

Added Johnson, whose winless streak has now reached 71 races, “The first three-quarters of the race was pretty awful for us. But, the guys kept their head in the game and made some big adjustments and made some good adjustments and we got back in the mix. We’re still missing some speed though. So, we’ve still got plenty of work to do. I’m pretty frustrated and we’ve got to try to get on top of things. That’s the bottom line.”

The other Hendrick Motorsports driver, William Byron, finished 20th.

Follow @JerryBonkowski