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Brad Keselowski: Late-race incident with Daniel Suarez ‘a racing deal’

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Brad Keselowski took to Twitter late Sunday to dismiss the notion that a late-race incident with Daniel Suarez in the Cup season finale was an intentional act to help teammate Joey Logano win the championship.

The incident occurred with 20 laps to go when Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, David Ragan and Suarez were four-wide entering Turn 1.

Ragan was beneath Keselowski when he got loose and washed up into him, who then made contact with Suarez.

That sent Suarez into a slide, which cut a tire and put enough debris on the track to create a caution.

After the field pitted, Logano was third on the final restart with 15 laps to go. Three laps later he took the lead from Martin Truex Jr.

“Just a racing deal,” Keselowski said on Twitter. “@ClintBowyer and I were racing hard for position with 5th place points battle on the line.

“We Came up on 2 lap cars and neither of us 4 gave an inch. Hate that it caused a yellow but the racing was legit.”

The Team Penske driver added that he thought he had “screwed the 22 team” as a result of the incident and benefitted Kyle Busch, who led the race after not making a green flag pit stop.

Keselowski went on to finish fifth.

Truex finished second in a failed attempt to defend his 2017 title. His No. 78 Toyota lacked the short-run speed needed over the final run.

His fortunes were the opposite from 2017 when he capitalized on a late caution that involved Suarez and won the title.

“(Suarez) brought the caution out last year which won us the championship,” Truex’s crew chief Cole Pearn said after the race. “This year it cost us the championship. You’ve got to be good, but you’ve got to have a bit of luck. At the end of the day, it just didn’t quite shake out.”

 

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2018 Cup season by the numbers

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Somewhere Joey Logano is waking up to his first sunrise as a Cup champion.

Logano clinched his first Cup title Sunday with his win in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, beating Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.

Logano is the 33rd different driver to win a Cup title in the series’ 70 seasons.

The 28-year-old is the second driver to win a Cup title for Team Penske.

With the 2018 season complete and 36 races added to the record book, here’s a look at some of the interesting stats that made up the year courtesy of Racing Insights.

– The Cup Series competed for 10,250 laps over 13,741 miles

– Cup saw 73 different drivers compete in 36 races

– Eleven drivers made their Cup debut

– Thirteen drivers won at least one pole. Kurt Busch led the series with five poles.

Daniel Suarez was the only driver to earn his first pole (Pocono II)

– Two drivers, Chase Elliott (Watkins Glen) and Erik Jones (Daytona II) earned their first Cup wins.

– Joe Gibbs Racing led all teams with 10 poles

– Three cautions at Sonoma, Richmond and Kansas were the fewest in a race.

– 13 cautions in the spring at Bristol were the most in a race.

– Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski each won three races in a row. It’s the first time three drivers have done that in a season.

– Five drivers ended a winless streak of 36 or more races: Clint Bowyer (190 races), Aric Almirola (149 races), Kurt Busch (58 races), Ryan Blaney (50 races) and Joey Logano (36 races)

– Seven times a driver won both stages and the race
.

– Harvick led all drivers with 19 stage wins.

 

Most Laps Led in a season without a win:

Driver                      Laps Led           Season

Harry Gant              1169                     1981

Jeff Gordon            919                       2010

Kyle Larson           782                      2018

Buddy Baker          766                       1969

Larson led the most laps in four races but failed to win all four.

 

Best Average Finish on 1.5-Mile tracks in a season:

Driver                             Avg Fin        Season               Starts

Bobby Labonte            2.43              1999                    7

Martin Truex Jr.           2.55               2017                    11

Bobby Labonte            3.14              2000                    7

Carl Edwards               4.64              2011                    11

Kyle Busch                   5.1                 2018                     11

 

Consecutive Seasons with at least one win: Active Drivers

Driver                                  No.         Years

Jimmie Johnson              16          2002-2017

Kyle Busch                       14           2005-2018

Denny Hamlin                 12           2006-2017

Kevin Harvick                 9              2010-2018

Brad Keselowski            8              2011-2018

Bold drivers won this season

 

 

Dominant season doesn’t end in title for Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — In a season where Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick combined to win nearly half the races, they weren’t good enough to beat Joey Logano for the Cup championship Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“It’s all for naught,” Busch said of a season where he tied his career-high with eight wins and had career highs in top fives (22) and top 10s (28). “We won eight races, that’s great, but forget about it now.”

Busch struggled with an ill-handling car and spotty pit work at times that forced crew chief Adam Stevens to make a gamble on staying out late, hoping for a caution.

When the team got it, Busch kept the lead off pit road but had nothing on the restart and fell back, finishing fourth.

“I don’t know what happened to it,” Busch said of his car’s handling. “I thought we were way better than that. We wouldn’t have unloaded today if we thought we were that far off.

“Adam gave a great call for strategy there. I didn’t think it was going to work. I thought we were going to finish about 12th of 13th and the pit stop fell in our lap. I didn’t get the best of restarts, but it didn’t matter, they were gone.”

Harvick won a career-high eight races, tied his career best with 23 top-five finishes and had a career-high 29 top 10s.

“It’s been a great year and we just got beat tonight,” said Harvick, who ran without suspended crew chief Rodney Childers on the pit box for the second consecutive week.

He struggled with his car at times during the 267-lap race before finishing third. 

“Good in the day and not good enough at night” is how Harvick described his race.

Harvick led 58 laps – most of those before the sun set.

“As soon as it got dark we never could get our car tightened up there at the end,” Harvick said. “Then they made a great call to put us in position to win the race, and then the caution came out when (Brad Keselowski) spun (Daniel Suarez) out and came off pit road fourth, and just our strong point was not the restarts tonight, and wound up on the wrong side of it.”

Joey Logano wins Cup finale in Miami, championship

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Joey Logano clinched his first Cup Series title Sunday with a win in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Logano led the final 12 laps after he passed Martin Truex Jr. in Turn 1 on the outside. Truex, who finished second, never challenged Logano again.

Kevin Harvick placed third and Kyle Busch finished fourth.

MORE: Harvick and Busch come up short in career years

“We did it! We won the championship. I can’t believe it,” Logano told NBC. “I don’t even know what to say. This team, Roger Penske, (crew chief) Todd Gordon, the pit crew, oh my God. Those guys are amazing. They gave me the car I needed at the end to do my job. Put me in position to do my job. Couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Logano’s championship comes in his 10th full-time season in Cup, his sixth with Team Penske and a year after he missed the playoffs.

“I’ve worked my whole life to get here,” Logano said. “I’ve spent 10 seasons fighting for this. Wasn’t sure we were going to get it, but man, Todd made a great adjustment there at the end. He has a no quit attitude and I was going to pass (Truex) no matter what.”

Truex, the defending champion, finished second after he led 20 laps. It was the final race for Furniture Row Racing, which will close with the end of the season.

“I’m going to miss these guys, wish we could have won it,” Truex told NBC. “We had it. We couldn’t go over 15 laps. I knew that last restart was going be tough … I was just slow for 15 laps.”

The championship is the second for Team Penske, which won its first in 2012 with Brad Keselowski.

The title is the first for Ford in Cup since Kurt Busch won it in 2004.

Logano entered the race as the only member of the Championship 4 without a title.

The race’s final 15-lap run was set up by a caution involving Daniel Suarez and Brad Keselowski. Busch led at the time, the only one of the Championship 4 who had not made a green flag pit stop.

Busch then beat the field off pit road, but Truex took the lead on the restart.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kevin Harvick

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Larson

MORE: Race results

MORE: Final point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: In likely his final Cup start, Matt Kenseth finished sixth for his best result in 15 starts this year … Brad Keselowski placed fifth for his third top five in the last four races.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kyle Larson led 45 laps but finished 13th after he cut a tire and got into wall on Lap 193 … After his incident with Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez placed 30th in his last start with Joe Gibbs Racing … Regan Smith finished 39th, 27 laps off the lead after he went to the garage during the pre-race pace laps for an oil leak.

NOTABLE: Denny Hamlin (12 years) and Jimmie Johnson (16 years) each ended streaks of seasons with at least one win … Johnson placed 14th in his final race with crew chief Chad Knaus and with sponsor Lowe’s.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 1: “Just a lot of screaming. I think I pulled a muscle.” – Joey Logano to NBC on what he did as he took the checkered flag.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 2: “I don’t want him to change at all. In fact I think he did just what he did today. He beat all these guys fair and square.” – Roger Penske to NBCSN on Joey Logano.

WHAT’S NEXT: Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 17.

Denny Hamlin’s team passes over No. 1 pit stall to Kyle Busch’s team

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Denny Hamlin’s team did not choose the No. 1 pit stall for Sunday’s race, allowing Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to have the best pit stall as Busch races for a Cup championship.

Mike Wheeler, Hamlin’s crew chief, had first choice of pit stalls Saturday after Hamlin won the pole Friday night. The pole winner typically picks the No. 1 pit stall, closest to pit exit, because it is the best stall at any track.  

But Hamlin is not competing for a championship, having been eliminated earlier in the playoffs. Busch qualified second, giving his team the second pick of pit stalls.

MORE: Denny Hamlin reacts to giving up No. 1 pit stall to Kyle Busch 

This move could help Busch win the race and his second championship, just as it could impact Hamlin’s chances of winning the race.

Mike Wheeler, crew chief for Denny Hamlin, makes his pit stall pick, as Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch, looks on. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Car owner Joe Gibbs said he discussed the decision with the team personnel.

“We feel like for us the best thing … at this point would be to have Denny do everything he could to try to win the race,” Gibbs said. “Obviously, we’ve got Daniel (Suarez) and Erik (Jones), same for them. We’re going to do everything we can to win the race there, but we also, for us, have a championship on the line and what we would love to do is win that championship. That’s how the decision was made for us.

“I think if there is any criticism, it goes to me.”

Hamlin’s team took pit stall No. 4, which has an opening in front of it.

“Obviously it’s great to have the number one pit stall for the race and I appreciate the teamwork by the guys on the 11,” Kyle Busch said after Saturday’s final Cup practice. “(Gibbs) and everyone at JGR are focused on doing what they can to bring a championship for the company.”

The pit stalls at Homestead-Miami Speedway are 30-feet, 8-inches long. The No. 1 pit stall is about 40 feet from where the NASCAR camera is located that determines the position off pit road. That allows the car in the No. 1 pit stall to fire out of its box and surge ahead of those traveling down pit road.

That can make the difference between being the leader and having lane choice on a restart. That could be a key factor in who wins the race and the championship.

The decision by Hamlin’s team does not violate Section 7.5 of the Cup Rulebook – the so-called 100 percent rule. That rule states: “NASCAR requires its Competitor(s) to race at 100% of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in the Event.”

The key is “race.” The rule does not regulate selection of pit stalls.

This isn’t the first time Joe Gibbs Racing has done something with a view toward the championship.

Three of the four Gibbs cars ran at the back of the Talladega playoff race in 2016 — when that race was a cutoff race in the second round — instead of running toward the front and risk being involved in an accident that could have eliminated Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Busch from title contention. With that race no longer a cutoff event, that’s not an issue.