Las Vegas — Brad Keselowski nailed the final restart and roared away from the field in the scorching Vegas heat.
With another huge performance in his late-season surge, Keselowski (Rochester Hills) finished up front again — and he’s got NASCAR’s Big Three drivers looking over their shoulders.
Keselowski raced to his third consecutive Cup series victory Sunday, opening the playoffs by persevering through a wreck-filled afternoon and taking charge of overtime.
He also secured team owner Roger Penske’s 500th victory across all competitions with his resourceful performance amid 99-degree conditions and constant stop-and-start late drama of a race featuring 12 cautions and several wrecks.
“I didn’t think it was ever going to end,” Keselowski said after his 27th career victory and third in Las Vegas. “I was worried about running out of gas there at the end.”
Keselowski had plenty of worries with just two laps to go while he sat in his stationary car and waited for the cleanup of Michael McDowell’s wreck with Kurt Busch. But after the red-flag stop ended, nobody could keep up with Keselowski’s Team Penske Ford.
The victory extended an extraordinary late-season run for Keselowski, who won at Darlington and the Brickyard in consecutive weeks before Vegas. Keselowski credited his pit crew’s efficiency for the latest win in his improbable surge, which has added some intrigue to a NASCAR season largely dominated by the Big Three of Truex, Harvick and Kyle Busch.
“We have not been the best car the last three weeks,” Keselowski said. “We put everything together when it counted, and we kind of stole it today. Same scenario the last two weeks. … I feel like we stole the last three races. We’re not complaining, but we still have a lot of work to do to go out there and win heads-up without those issues.”
Penske was not in attendance for his landmark victory at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, instead watching from Sonoma at the IndyCar season finale. He formed Team Penske in 1966, and it has fielded 50 winning drivers across 14 race series during the ensuing 52 years.
The owner, whose corporation is based in Bloomfield Hills, pumped his fist on the timing stand in Sonoma after Keselowski won.
“We did it, boss!” Keselowski shouted. “That’s quite a number, right? It’s really great to be a part of that, and to get the last one to get us there, that’s pretty great.”
Kyle Larson was second, and defending Cup series champion Martin Truex Jr. came in third. Keselowski’s rivals are very aware of his surge against stiff odds.
“Brad clearly found the horseshoe,” Truex said. “Three races in a row he’s won, (and) he has not had the best car. … He hasn’t led the most laps in any of those races, and he showed up at the end with good pit stops and good short-run speed. I think clearly, it’s pretty obvious how it worked out. He’s hot right now. He’s on a streak. That’s the way it goes. We finished third with the best car.”
Eight of the 16 playoff drivers had various problems during the race, which had six cautions in the final 60 laps alone. Four playoff drivers failed to finish — including co-leader Kevin Harvick, who wrecked with 120 laps to go when he blew his right front tire.
Kyle Busch finished seventh in Vegas even after clipping the wall and plowing through the infield grass with 35 laps to go.
Truex moved into the overall points lead over Busch and Keselowski, who leapfrogged Harvick.
Dixon wins IndyCar finale
Scott Dixon was fully reclined, quietly watching NASCAR on television with friends, as the clock inched toward the IndyCar season finale. A fifth championship was one steady drive away and Dixon wasn’t the least bit stressed.
Dixon needed only an uneventful day at Sonoma Raceway to win the championship and sealed it by finishing second, the same place he started, behind Ryan Hunter-Reay. The fifth title moved him into second in IndyCar history, two behind A.J. Foyt.
“I can’t believe this is actually happening,” Dixon said. “You always doubt these situations and think they are never going to happen. It’s all about the people and I’m the lucky one that gets to take it across the line.”
The 38-year-old New Zealander also won titles in 2003, 2008, 2013 and 2015, all with Chip Ganassi Racing. He’s the longest tenured driver in Ganassi history and helped the team owner cap a strong organizational weekend in which Ross Chastain won NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race, Kyle Larson finished second in NASCAR’s opening playoff race and Dixon gave him a 12th IndyCar championship.
“What an incredible ride it’s been with this guy,” said Ganassi, who celebrated the title the same way he did in 2015, by diving from the championship stage into the crowd assembled below.
Dixon’s task was eased when challenger Alexander Rossi hit teammate Marco Andretti seconds after the start and broke his front wing. Rossi had to pit for a new part, dropped to last in the field, and the championship was pretty much decided.
Dixon held a 29-point lead over Rossi at the start of the day, and even though the race was worth double points, Rossi needed to be perfect to catch “The Iceman.” Dixon’s final points margin was 57 points over Rossi, who rallied to finish seventh. Rossi ended his third season in IndyCar second in the standings.
“It was going to be a tough day to beat Scott anyway,” Rossi said. “It’s unfortunate to go out like that. I wish I could replay that a million more times. We have to look at 2018 and be pretty happy with it, even though we go away second and the first loser.”
As relaxed as Dixon appeared to be all day, he admitted after the race he didn’t let up in the race car after Rossi’s mishap. The title wasn’t secure, he said, until he made it through the final round of pit stops cleanly.
“You just never know, anything can happen,” Dixon said. “We had a lot of grit. Rossi did a hell of a job, he’s been pushing so hard this year and he’s going to be a star.”
Hunter-Reay won for the 18th time and second this season.
“To end this way is unreal,” said Hunter-Reay, who dedicated the win to injured IndyCar driver Robert Wickens. “We wish he was here, he would have made my life a lot more difficult on the track today.”
Hunter-Reay also praised Dixon as the greatest driver of this IndyCar generation.
“It’s unthinkable what he’s accomplished,” Hunter-Reay said. “To share the track with him is awesome and to beat him is, too.”
Will Power and Simon Pagenaud finished third and fourth for Team Penske, which picked up its 500th organizational win earlier Sunday when Brad Keselowski won NASCAR’s opening playoff race in Las Vegas. Roger Penske watched those closing laps from atop Power’s timing stand as the end of NASCAR overlapped the start of IndyCar. Penske pumped his fist in the air several times after the Keselowski win.
Power’s finish gave the Indianapolis 500 winner third in the championship standings.
Wickens pledges return
IndyCar driver Robert Wickens has vowed to return to a race car following injuries in a crash at Pocono Raceway.
Wickens posted to social media from his bed in an Indianapolis rehabilitation center. The Canadian is wearing braces around his neck and torso, and a cast on his right wrist.
Wickens’ car sailed into the fence at Pocono on Aug. 19 and he suffered a thoracic spinal fracture, spinal cord injury, neck fracture, tibia and fibula fractures to both legs, fractures in both hands, a fractured right forearm, a fractured elbow, four fractured ribs and a pulmonary contusion.
The extent of his spinal cord injury has not been determined.
In his post, Wickens said: “I’m in rehab now, trying to get back to 100 percent as soon as possible, but I don’t know what the future holds for me. It’s going to be a very long road to recovery. All I can say is I’m going to work as hard as possible, train as hard as possible, to make sure I’m back in a race car as quickly as possible.”
Hamilton wins Singapore GP
Lewis Hamilton won the floodlit Singapore Grand Prix from pole position to extend his championship lead over Sebastian Vettel to a commanding 40 points.
The Mercedes driver made a clean start and was largely untroubled as he beat Red Bull driver Max Verstappen by nine seconds, with Vettel much further back in third.
“I definitely didn’t come to Singapore thinking I’d come away with 10 points more (than Vettel),” a jubilant Hamilton said. “I know I can’t get ahead of myself, we can’t get ahead of ourselves.”
The four-time Formula One champion recorded his seventh win of the season and 69th of his F1 career. Vettel’s championship bid crumbled when he crashed from pole here last year and then went on to lose the title by 46 points to Hamilton.
It is looking increasingly like a repeat scenario for the Ferrari driver, who now has just six races left to catch Hamilton in their bid for a fifth F1 title.
Vettel was unhappy with his team after qualifying in third place behind Verstappen, and the German driver sounded irritated during Sunday’s race after a team strategy error to send him into the pits for a tire change before Hamilton failed to work.
Instead he lost position and crucial points, dropping back behind Verstappen having earlier overtaken him.
“We tried to be aggressive in the beginning and obviously it didn’t work out,” a despondent Vettel said. “I think today, with the way we raced, we didn’t have a chance. I said before the weekend we can only beat ourselves and today we didn’t get everything out of the package.”
Hamilton has won four of the past five races and leads Vettel 7-5 in wins this season.