Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LAS VEGAS, NV – The late caution flags in Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway were just what Brad Keselowski needed.
But they were inimical to the winning chances of Kyle Larson, who couldn’t match Keselowski’s short-run speed.
Larson had just passed Keselowski for the top spot on Lap 245 of 272, but two laps later, Denny Hamlin spun off Turn 4 to bring out the ninth yellow flag of the afternoon. Three more cautions followed in short order, and Larson never had a chance to use his long-run advantage.
Instead, Larson finished second in a two-lap overtime dash, 1.276 seconds behind Keselowski. The runner-up finish was Larson’s sixth of the season without a victory.
“I needed it to stay green there (after the pass of Keselowski),” Larson said. “I felt like I could have won the race right there, because he was really good on the short run and I was terrible on short runs today, but once I could get the top (lane) going, I was really good.
“Right when I moved up top in (Turns) 3 and 4 and pulled away, the caution came out. I felt like I was going to be able to stretch it. I felt like the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) would probably get by (Keselowski) at some point and then maybe chase me down.
“I knew if I could hold Brad off for a little bit, I would have a good shot, but it didn’t work out. And then we had a ton of restarts there. A couple of them worked out for me, a couple of them didn’t, and, thankfully, the last one worked out and we were able to get to second.”
JIMMIE JOHNSON FINDS SPEED IN VEGAS BUT CAN’T SHAKE BAD LUCK
Fans at Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway might have had to do a double-take.
After starting 17th and falling back early, Jimmie Johnson charged into the top five, a position he hasn’t occupied for much of the 2018 season.
Johnson was running seventh for a restart on lap 257, but on that circuit he was part of a four-car tangle with Playoff contenders Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch. Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet was heavily damaged, and after repairs, he finished 22nd, two laps down.
The seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion leaves Las Vegas 13th in the standings, six points behind Bowman, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate.
“We could have closed with a top-five finish that would have really helped and given us a cushion,” Johnson said. “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 (Busch) off of Turn 2.
“I don’t know how next week is going to go (at Richmond), I really don’t, and I sure as hell don’t know how the (Charlotte) Roval is going to go (Sept. 30). So, sure, we finished higher than some guys, but any cushion we could have gotten today would have been nice.”
AUSTIN DILLON IS A SURVIVOR IN A WAR OF ATTRITION IN THE DESERT
Austin Dillon got his wish—Sunday’s South Point 400 didn’t finish the way it started for the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team.
The reigning Daytona 500 winner was relegated to the rear of the field for the opening green flag because of unapproved adjustments to the body of the Chevrolet. But Dillon persevered, and when attrition took care of more than half the Playoff contenders, he rolled home with an 11th-place finish that left him 10th in the standings heading to Richmond for the second race in the first round of the postseason.
Dillon finished behind teammate Ryan Newman in ninth and former teammate Paul Menard in 10th.
“Yeah, I’m proud of our guys,” Dillon said. “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.”
Compared with pole winner Erik Jones, though, Dillon’s turnaround could be described as spectacular good fortune—Jones started first and finished last.