Michigan native and former NASCAR Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski has never won at the Michigan International Speedway, his home track. He was fast yesterday, fast enough to pressure eventual winner Kevin Harvick on his way to a runner-up finish. He was fast again today, fighting for the lead against teammate Ryan Blaney about halfway through the race when he made contact with Blaney, ending both of their races.
It was a crushing blow for Penske Racing, who saw a potential 1-2 finish evaporate in an instant. It was crushing for Keselowski, too. A win at home would have been among the most important of his career, but it would have also given him a massive chunk of Playoff points that would put him even further ahead of his fourth-placed teammate Joey Logano, a tremendous advantage in the first nine races of the ten-race playoff format that decides NASCAR's champions.
Harvick, yesterday's winner and the current championship leader, was the immediate beneficiary of the wreck. He led 90 laps today, and faced only pressure from Denny Hamlin after Keselowski's mistake eliminated two of the top four cars of the day from the race. Hamlin was able to close the lead to Harvick late, thanks in no small part to yet another late caution caused by a flat tire from a top car, but difficulty passing the leader under green flag conditions made Hamlin's path to passing Harvick challenging, and Harvick was able to hold the lead and take the win.
Harvick and Hamlin would lead Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch to the finish, with Joey Logano rounding out the top five. Strong finishes just outside the top ten by Jimmie Johnson and William Byron mean that Byron's gap on the drivers chasing a spot in the Playoff field is now up to 26 points, where Johnson is now tied with Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones, who finished just 27th today. Rookie Tyler Reddick is just ten points behind Jones and Johnson, but the playoff field is set by the total number of race winners plus the remaining championship leaders to make up a field of sixteen, not the top sixteen outright, meaning that this entire bubble battle could be rendered irrelevant immediately if anyone outside of the top sixteen won a race in the four upcoming rounds at Daytona and Dover.
NASCAR returns next weekend with its first ever races on the Daytona road course. A lack of practice and qualifying on the layout will make the event one of the most interesting races of the season.
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