Sprint Cup star Brad Keselowski got the break he needed Saturday in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge when race leader Kyle Larson cut a tire and spun with 22 laps to go.
That spin turned the Xfinity Series race into a 14-lap dash, and Keselowski was up for the challenge, pulling away from Kevin Harvick and Austin Dillon to win at Texas Motor Speedway.
While Keselowski is not eligible to earn driver points in the series, he helped team owner Roger Penske clinch his third consecutive owners title in the series by getting the No. 22 Discount Tire Ford into Victory Lane.
Today was certainly a good day to get the extra experience of running the Xfinity Series.
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“It was one of those races where it seemed like it could have fallen any way,” Keselowski said. “The 42 [Larson] was really fast, of course. The 88 [Harvick] was really fast. I’m sure if the 54 [Kyle Busch] had not had trouble he would have been tough to beat. And then of course Austin Dillon ran away with it at points.
“It certainly wasn’t a gimme race by any stretch of the imagination. We had to earn it with a strong, consistent day.”
Keselowski, who started second after qualifying was canceled to allow the track to dry from morning rains, has won two of his past four starts in the Xfinity Series at TMS and finished second in the other two.
196Laps led by Sprint Cup regulars out of 200 during Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. Winner Brad Keselowski led six times for 62 laps.
Harvick finished second with Dillon finishing third. Prosper’s Chris Buescher, who came into the race with a 27-point series lead, finished 11th. He has a 24-point lead over Chase Elliott (eighth place) with two races remaining.
The biggest concern for the drivers entering the race was the track. Early-morning rain left the track green and with a few wet spots on it when the race began after about a 30-minute delay.
No issues materialized, though, as the Sprint Cup drivers were the class of the field from the start. They combined to lead 196 of the 200 laps, with Keselowski leading six times for 62 laps.
But it was Larson who was out front when the race went into the closing stages. Larson, who had issues with a tire rub throughout the race, cut the tire exiting Turn 4 and spun to bring out the fourth and final caution.
All four of Roger Penske’s owners titles in the Xfinity Series have come since Brad Keselowski joined the team.
“A lot of these races are kind of determined, especially these Xfinity races, on the way the cautions fall,” crew chief Greg Erwin said. “Everyone was very concerned with tire wear on green-flag stops and the way the race kind of unfolded, Brad did a good job of keeping the tires on the car.”
Dillon won the race out of the pits, but after a brief three-way battle for the lead, Sunday’s pole-sitter for the AAA Texas 500 pulled away and won by 1.137 seconds.
“I thought it was a great battle,” Keselowski said. “I was just barely able to clear the 33 [Dillon] before the 88 [Harvick] got there. That was the difference-maker. It was just a good battle, a really good battle.”
Penske has won four of the past five owners titles and all four have all come since Keselowski joined the team.
As good as getting the win was for Keselowski, it might have also helped him for Sunday’s race. The rain washed out the Sprint Cup practice, giving Keselowski another edge on the field.
“Today was certainly a good day to get the extra experience of running the Xfinity Series,” he said. “Working with the cars, with the rules changes this season, the repetitions in the cars is a lot closer. It’s certainly not a disadvantage, and today was probably the most extreme of advantages to running both series.”