Saturday's motors: Brad Keselowski dedicates Kansas Speedway win to 'unsung hero'
Kansas City, Kan. — Brad Keselowski had planned to head to St. Louis after the NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway to visit Mike Mittler, a longtime Truck Series owner who helped him early in his career and had been battling cancer the past couple years.
But after Mittler died Friday night at the age of 67, Keselowski (Rochester Hills) headed to victory lane instead, capturing the checkered flag Saturday night and dedicating the win to his friend and mentor.
“He helped a lot of guys in their career. Just a huge loss for the NASCAR community,” said Keselowski, who held off Alex Bowman and a charging field in overtime for his third win this season.
“One of those unsung heroes,” Keselowski added. “Gave his whole life to this sport.”
Mittler would have liked the hardscrabble way Keselowski won at Kansas.
He dealt with balance problems early in the race, never really contended with the faster cars of Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch through the first couple of stages, yet managed to get everything sorted out in time to give Team Penske a satisfying Saturday sweep.
Simon Pagenaud won a wet and wild IndyCar Grand Prix in Indianapolis earlier in the day.
Bowman finished second for the third straight week, while Erik Jones triggered some bad blood with Kansas native Clint Bowyer by making an aggressive move that allowed him to hold onto third.
“I think it was just racing,” Jones said with a shrug. “We were racing hard. This pack really leads to a lot of protecting your position. I’m not going to give up three or four spots.”
Elliott dominated long stretches of the race before losing the lead to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with 22 laps to go. But after his car failed inspection twice and Elliott had to start at the back, he still managed to work his way to the front for his third consecutive top-five finish.
Bowyer rounded out the top five, though his run-in with Jones left him in no mood to celebrate.
The big question coming into the race was how NASCAR’s new rules package would fare, especially after it was panned by drivers and owners alike this week. But with an overcast sky and cool temps, the package wound up producing arguably the best race of the entire Cup Series season.
Harvick dominated early before a flat right tire with 90 laps to go got him out of pit sequence. Busch then pulled into contention and was challenging for the lead when a caution came out for Austin Dillon’s lost tire with 50 laps to go, sending the leaders to the pits.
Busch wound up going through too many boxes and was sent to the back of the field.
“Sure takes the win away, doesn’t it?” Busch said ruefully on his radio.
Stenhouse took the lead when he swung past Bowman and Elliott, and Keselowski suddenly appeared in his rearview mirror. The former Cup Series champion had been hanging around the top 10 all day but had been struggling with balance, and he seemed to find it at the perfect time.
Keselowski pulled even with seven laps to go, then held his lead on the green-white-checkered restart to win the first overtime spring race at Kansas Speedway.
“We just kept working it all night. Brad never gave up,” said his crew chief, Paul Wolfe. “Brad never gave up. We fought through it and I knew once we got the balance right we could contend, and we were able to do that tonight.”
Pagenaud wins Indy Grand Prix
Simon Pagenaud ended his victory drought with a splashy move — complete with rooster tails.
The Frenchman made a daring pass through three turns on the second-to-last lap and sped away from Scott Dixon for his third IndyCar Grand Prix victory and first series win since the 2017 season finale at Sonoma. Pagenaud beat five-time series champion Scott Dixon by 2.0469 seconds.
“I’ve got to get everything right, and we did that this weekend,” Pagenaud said. “lowly and surely, we got there. The stars just didn’t align before. But the performance has always been there this year. The team has been fantastic at giving me what I need. So, here we are.”
After qualifying eighth, barely avoiding a loose tire from teammate Josef Newgarden during the race and running out of push-to-pass time during a pass of Jack Harvey for second, the Frenchman pulled off the victory.
“I can’t believe it,” Pagenaud said. “Awesome. What a race. I want to thank Team Penske, everybody that supports me. This is the sweetest win I’ve ever had.”
Team Penske has won five straight races on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.439-mile, 14-turn course and Pagenaud and Will Power remain the only drivers to ever win the race. Power also has three wins.
“We kept it in the Penske family,” Pagenaud said.
It’s the first time this season an IndyCar team has won two races.
Dixon led for most of the second half of the 85-lap race and still led by more than 6 seconds when Pagenaud started his incredible run. He moved into fourth with 15 laps to go, passed Matheus Leist with 11 to go and managed to weave his way around Jack Harvey, leaving only Dixon in front of him.
Pagenaud chased him down then passed him by going wide into the seventh turn, bumping wheels with the New Zealander in the eighth and sped away through the ninth turn.
“From 10 laps to go, I think I kind of knew I was in trouble,” said Dixon, who has 44 wins and 43rd career second-place finishes. “You could just see the No. 22 car some pretty immense pace. Once he got past Harvey, it just took two laps until he was on top of us.”
Dixon has finished second three times this year for Chip Ganassi Racing — and has three straight runner-up finishes on Indy’s road course.
Harvey, of England, wound up a career-best third for Meyer Shank Racing in his first career race in the rain. Leist, of Brazil, was fourth — also his best career finish.
All 22 drivers still on the track at the end were running on rain tires.
Bottas takes Spanish GP pole
Valtteri Bottas is poised to become a major threat to teammate and defending Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton after clocking a scorching lap at the Spanish Grand Prix to take his third consecutive pole position.
Bottas smashed Hamilton’s track record at the Barcelona-Catalunya Circuit in qualifying, finishing the 4.6-kilometer (2.5-mile) track in 1 minute, 15.406 seconds to better Hamilton’s mark from 2018.
More importantly for Bottas’ hopes in Sunday’s race was the gap of more than half a second over Hamilton’s best effort.
With Hamilton second on the grid, Mercedes is in great position to extend its record start after the pair swept the top two spots at the first four races.
Bottas, who failed to win a race last season, leads Hamilton by one point in the standings after they have alternated places in their run of one-two finishes.