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Six drivers earn season-best finishes at Las Vegas

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Racing is a zero sum game. For one driver to succeed, another must fail.

The opposite is also true. When one driver fails, it creates an opportunity for another to succeed.

Heavy attrition in the South Point 400 at Las Vegas last week opened to door for six drivers to score season-best results.

12th – Regan Smith: In his second start in relief for Kasey Kahne, Smith earned his 30th career top 15 in his 215th Cup start. This was his best finish since finishing third at Pocono in 2016 (19 races for the part-time driver).

16th – Corey LaJoie: This was the second time this season LaJoie finished on the lead lap. He also went the full distance at Michigan in June’s rain-shortened race and finished 27th.

17th – JJ Yeley: He scored another top 20 (18th) earlier in the year at Daytona in the Coke Zero 400. This was Yeley’s best finish on a non-restrictor plate track since he finished third at New Hampshire in June 2008.

18th – Landon Cassill: In 20 starts in 2018, this is Cassill’s first time to finish on the lead lap. His previous best finish this year was a 20th at Bristol in April.

26th – Kyle Weatherman: In six Cup starts, this is Weatherman’s first top-30 finish. He came close to cracking the top 30 in his last two starts, however, with 31st-place results at Pocono and New Hampshire.

28th – BJ McLeod: This is McLeod’s best career finish in 20 Cup starts. It comes on the heels of another top-30 finish the previous week at Indy (30th).

Two other drivers earned their second-best finish of 2018.

Playoff contender Aric Almirola took full advantage of problems for his championship rivals and finished sixth – moving up to ninth in the standings from 14th. His best finish this year was third at New Hampshire in July.

Coming off his first career Xfinity win, Ross Chastain finished 20th at Las Vegas. His best Cup finish of 2018 was an 18th at Texas – another race with heavy attrition.

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What drivers said after Las Vegas

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Brad Keselowski — Winner: “I didn’t think it was ever gonna end. I was worried about running out of gas there at the end. I know the fans can hear on this microphone and I want to say thank you to everyone who braved 100 degree heat all day. You guys are the real heroes. I get paid to do this. You guys pay to watch and thank you for doing that. Thank you for coming out today and tolerating the heat. We’re so glad to be able to win and get in Victory Lane again with the Autotrader Ford. What a special day for 500 wins for Penske, three in a row here, first win in the Playoffs. There are too many storylines for me to get it all right, but we’re very thankful and very proud for all of them.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 2nd: “Yeah, the restarts a couple of them worked out for me and a couple of them didn’t. But, was happy to end up second there. Didn’t really expect to get to second there on that final restart, but it was pretty hectic. Just glad we had a good day after the tire issue we had early in the race. So, yeah, good points day.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 3rd: “(The late restart) took the race from us, no question. With 15 laps or so we could take the lead and drive away. We were actually a little too good on the long run, I wish maybe we could have gone the other direction a little bit and still been able to get the lead. If we were the leader, we could do okay, I could maintain, but when I was second or third or fourth, it just made me tight enough that I had to wait for the thing to come to me or wait for other guys to start getting off the bottom in front of me. All in all it was a great day for everybody on the Bass Pro/5-hour ENERGY Camry and all the guys did a phenomenal job this weekend. Thanks to all the guys back in Denver at the shop, it’s pretty cool to see the effort going into these last 10 – we’re going to get after them. We had a winning car, just didn’t work out for us today. Really proud of the effort.”

Joey Logano — Finished 4th: “Once we lost our track position we went from first to third there and it was just hard to get it back. I thought I had a shot at it on the restart when I got to the outside of (Keselowski) but I just couldn’t clear him down into (Turn) 3. I don’t know. I wish I could re-run the race. Might be a little better. But everyone in the field is probably saying the same thing.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 5th: “We were all over the place. I was good on short runs and long runs I was really loose. We were trying to get it to where it would last. We got it a little better but definitely not where we need to be. It was a struggle. They worked really hard all day. I can’t thank them enough for that. I tried to stay out of trouble and just survive I guess. Congrats to Brad and the 2 team on their 500th win for Team Penske, that is pretty neat. We have to work on some stuff but salvaging a decent day is a good day.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 6th: “I felt like our Ford was pretty good today. We got behind on qualifying and that kind of set the tone. That was my fault. I was trying to get too much and got in the fence and made another mistake and we were able to come down on pit road and get all the damage fixed and the car was back to being good again. I am proud of that effort. That was a really hard fought sixth place. Man, one of these races we will have it go smooth and we will be a contender. I am really proud of that effort. That was a really hard fought sixth.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 7th: “There was a lot of racing going on there at the end and the restarts here were very, very hectic with three-wide and everything kind of happening off of (Turn) 2 and guys banging into one another. You get really tight off of (Turn) 2 if you’re not careful so that’s where you saw a lot of carnage happen. With 20 (laps) to go, you’re probably going to see a lot more top runners finish farther up front.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 8th: “It was tough. We didn’t have the speed today. We had a 15 to 20th place car. We have to keep working hard for the rest of the season and hopefully keep improving for our next half-mile track.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 11th: “I’m proud of our guys. They brought a really fast race car. We gave up a lot of track position throughout the day, not just from starting in the back, but on pit stops we really struggled. But, you know, proud of the effort. I felt like I got out all I could out of it. Bummer at the end. We needed a top 10. Eleventh is good, but racing my teammate to the line there I thought we would get him, but we didn’t.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 19th: “That is the most speed we have had on a 1.5-mile all year. I was running 50 percent probably maybe 60 percent that first run towards the end and just mowing guys down. Our long run speed was so good. We were too tight to restart, but our long run speed was really good. So, that is super encouraging, unfortunately we don’t have another 1.5-mile for a while, but we can turn it around at Richmond too.”

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 22nd: “It helps, but we could have closed with a top-five finish that would have really helped and given us a cushion. Today was really a good day for the Lowe’s team. We had good speed in the car, good pit stops, everything was going well and unfortunately, cut a right-front tire when we touched the No. 41 off of Turn 2. I don’t know how next week is going to go, I really don’t and I sure as hell don’t know how the Roval is going to go. So, sure, we finished higher than some guys, but any cushion we could have gotten today would have been nice.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 32nd: “Trying to get more than the car was capable of. We should have just finished 15th or 10th or wherever we were at the time, but trying to get more and the car won’t handle it. No grip and just a bad day overall.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 34th: “Today was one that just didn’t go our way. I fired off tight on each run, but my GEICO Camaro ZL1 would come to me the longer we would run. It’s unfortunate to have our day ruined by a blown tire because we had a lot more than what we got to show everyone. The right-side damage was pretty significant to the nose of our car, but we didn’t give up. It could have completely ended our day, but my team worked hard in the garage to get everything fixed and get me back out there. None of us wanted to quit. We still wanted to get all that we could out of this race and gain as many spots as possible. All we can do is hold our heads up and regroup to be ready for them next week in Richmond.”

Jamie McMurray — Finished 35th: “There was no smoke inside the car and the spotter said that he couldn’t see any smoke. So, typically it will run a while. But yeah, I’m assuming that the right rear tire must have rubbed a hole in it, and I don’t know why I chose to run the bottom on that lap. I wish I had stayed against the wall. But sometimes those look big but it actually didn’t hurt that bad.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 36th: “Yeah, I guess it just got caught in the wheel. But it popped really big and then I kind of got stopped and got to messing with it and it popped really big again. So, all good now and we’ll try to rebound next week. We had a really good car today and yeah, almost, just barely clipped him (Jamie McMurray). I just hate it. So many guys fell out today. I feel like half the top 16 has crashed. So, we’ve just got to finish, I guess.” – regarding a potential injury to his shoulder.

William Byron — Finished 37th: “I thought the beginning of our day went pretty good. Then in the wall the first time off (Turn) 2 and we were able to fix it after that and then pitted again, same spot, so just kind of ended our day after that.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 39th: It’s like Russian roulette every time you put these piece of crap tires on and try to drive around the race track. One time it’s tight, one time it’s loose, one time they’re blistered. We had a great car and then you put a set of tires on and you can’t even hardly make it through the field.”

ERICK JONES — Finished 40th: “It’s just unfortunate – we didn’t have the best-handling DeWalt Camry today and thought we were going to end up okay. We were going to finish top 10 no matter what. It’s unfortunate we had that happen, nothing Kevin (Harvick) could do and nothing I could do unfortunately. Not the situation we needed to be in, we didn’t have any bonus points and we’ve got some work to do now. I don’t think we have to win, but we definitely need to run really well here at Richmond and the Roval so we’ll keep at it, but it’s just unfortunate that had to happen.”

Results, stats for the Cup race at Las Vegas

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Brad Keselowski survived a chaotic South Point 400 at Las Vegas to win the first playoff race of the 2018 season. He held off his Team Penske teammates on three consecutive restarts to give Roger Penske his 500th victory for the organization. The victory came in overtime.

Kyle Larson slipped into second on the final restart with Martin Truex, Jr. taking over third.

Joey Logano had a slow restart during the overtime run to the checkers and finished fourth.

The third member of Team Penske, Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five.

Click here for complete results

Brad Keselowski wins in overtime in Las Vegas

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Brad Keselowski won Sunday’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in overtime, outrunning Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. to earn his third victory in a row.

The top five was completed by Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney.

The win in the Cup playoff opener is Team Penske’s 500th in motorsports. With Logano and Blaney, it is the first time Penske has had three cars finish in the top five in Cup.

“500 wins today, huge day for the Captain (Roger Penske),” Keselowski told NBCSN. “I did it, boss! To start off the playoffs with a win, that’s really strong. … It’s really a testament to this team here. They’ve been so strong on pit road and I couldn’t have done it without them. We weren’t as fast as the 78 car (Truex), but we nailed the pit stops and restarts when it counted.”

Keselowski had never won three consecutive races before Sunday.

The overtime finish was set up by a wreck involving Kurt Busch, Michael McDowell and David Ragan coming to two laps to go in the scheduled distance. The incident resulted in a red flag before the race resumed.

That wreck caused the 12th and final caution of the race. More than half of the 16-driver playoff field ran into problems throughout the race.

Keselowski led 75 of 272 laps on his way to the win, which is the 27th of his career. The victory follows wins in the Southern 500 and Brickyard 400.

Keselowski also snaps a 13-race win streak by the “Big 3” of Truex, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick on 1.5-mile tracks.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

MORE: race results

MORE: Point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: No. 1 seed Kyle Busch managed to finish seventh after he spun with 35 laps to go and slid through the front stretch grass … Kyle Larson bounced back from a flat tire in the first stage to earn his sixth runner-up finish of the year … Ryan Blaney earned his first top five in four races … Regan Smith led 10 laps (his most in a season since 2011) and finished 12th, giving Leavine Family Racing its best finish since Kasey Kahne placed fourth in the July Daytona race.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kevin Harvick and Erik Jones wrecked out on Lap 148 after Harvick lost his right-front tire and hit the wall. Harvick placed 39th and Jones finished last … Jamie McMurray wrecked with 55 laps to go and collected Chase Elliott. McMurray finished 35th and Elliott placed 36th.  … Denny Hamlin wrecked out of Turn 4 with 21 laps to go. He placed 32nd.

NOTABLE: Brad Keselowski is the third driver to earn three consecutive wins this season (Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch). First time in NASCAR’s modern era that three drivers have achieved that feat in a season … Every driver who finished fifth through 18th finished better than their average running position.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Brad clearly found a horseshoe. Three races in a row he’s won and he has not had the best car..” – Martin Truex Jr.

WHAT’S NEXT: Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sept. 22 on NBCSN.

Check back for more.

Kevin Harvick blasts Goodyear for ‘piece of crap tires’ after Las Vegas wreck

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Kevin Harvick and Erik Jones will begin their playoffs with DNFs after wrecking on Lap 147 Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The wreck started when Harvick lost his right-front tire in the middle of Turns 1 and 2 and shot into the outside wall.

Jones then ran into the back of Harvick.

Harvick, who won at Las Vegas in March, entered the playoff opener as the No. 2 seed and with a series-leading seven wins. He had led 14 laps.

“Well there was something wrong from the time we put the tires on,” Harvick told NBCSN. “It’s like Russian roulette every time you put these piece of crap tires on and try to drive around the race track. One time it’s tight, one time it’s loose, one time they’re blistered. We had a great car and then you put a set of tires on and you can’t even hardly make it through the field.”

Goodyear’s Stu Grant addressed the tire situation, saying Goodyear had “not had any complaints about inconsistent tires.”

“Actually our performance has been pretty darn consistent,” Grant continued. “I would have to say the conditions are extremely difficult aren’t they? The heat in the race track makes it very slippery and it makes it very important to get the car setup right. I think if you are off a little bit, the heat and the slippery race track will exaggerate that.”

Grant added: “It’s the same thing that we saw a little bit yesterday in practice. We saw a few right-front blisters and we’re talking about the inside shoulder on the right-front tire. We saw a couple of those yesterday in practice. We worked with the teams to try to get the load off the inside shoulder off the right front. That’s where the heat is. Everybody has been talking about the heat. Let’s face it, 100 degrees is way different than 60 degrees back in March.”

Jones is participating in the playoffs for the first time. He won the pole but had not led any laps.

“It’s unfortunate, we didn’t have the best handling DeWalt Camry today … but we were going to finish top 10 no matter what,” Jones told NBCSN. “Nothing Kevin can do and nothing we can do unfortunately. Not the situation we needed to be in.”