BK Brings Damaged Deuce Home in 2nd

Five laps into Sunday’s Auto Club 400, it looked like Brad Keselowski’s day might be done, but when the checkered flag flew at Auto Club Speedway, BK and his beat-up No. 2 Wurth Ford Fusion were just a few car lengths away from victory—all without his chief strategist, Paul Wolfe.

Brad was sandwiched between Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman right after the initial green flag, and he was incidentally bumped into the grass by Jimmie Johnson just a few laps later, sending him spinning through the grass. But the 2 Crew, running without the suspended Wolfe, patched up the Deuce and sent it back onto the track. Kes clawed his way up to second place, but couldn’t quite catch race winner Kyle Larson.

While Larson captured his first career Monster Energy Cup Series victory, Brad was thrilled with the way his team turned what could’ve been a dismal afternoon of racing into his second best finish ever in Fontana, Calif.

“The Wurth Ford was torn up pretty bad,” Brad said. “To get that kind of finish is respectable. Certainly we want to win. I felt like we had a shot to do just that. It just didn’t come together.”

Qualifying on Fast Friday set the Deuce third on the starting grid, but the frontrunning position didn’t last for long. On the initial start, second-place starter Hamlin failed to get going – stacking up the entire inner line. The accordion effect sandwiched Kes between the No. 11 and Newman’s No. 31. Only with minor scrapes on the nose of the No.2, the major damage came on the crinkled left rear fender. After the opening lap, Brad found himself back in the 18th position, where an untimely tap from the No. 48 sent him spinning through the grass. Johnson later apologized for the bump.

A spin through the vegetation could easily have ended the Wurth Deuce’s day, but Bk and Co. were fortunate. The slide did not tear up the car. Other than a grille caked with grass and a moderately buckled the hood, the lawnmowing kept the car in relatively the same shape. Substitute crew chief Brian Wilson instructed Brad to bring the wounded Wurth Ford. The 2 Crew swapped out tires, cleaned the grille and repaired the hood, as well as the left-rear fender, which was chewed up in the first-lap incident.

Staying on the lead lap, BK prepared for a Lap 8 restart from the end of the longest line. Progress was slow, but after 10 trips around Auto Club Speedway, he cracked back into the Top 30. The field began to enter a sequence of green flag pit stops, where Brad took his car to the 2 Crew’s attention on lap 33 for a fresh set of rubber and a full tank of Sunoco racing fuel. Once it all cycled out, the 2015 winner found himself back inside the Top 20 on lap 47. Also working around Aric Almirola the next lap by, the defining moment of the race came on lap 55 when leader Kyle Larson set the No. 2 a lap down. Maintaining position as the free pass car, he held onto it for 5 laps when Stage 1 concluded—the first Stage this season where the 2 Crew didn’t earn points.

BK used his lucky dog position and returned to the lead lap, taking the green flag on lap 68 from the end of the longest line in 19th. When Stage 2 began, Brad scooted around Ryan Blaney and Austin Dillon, and also passed Daniel Suarez, Matt Kenseth and Ty Dillon before the next pit stop on Lap 91. The fast four-tire, fuel, wedge and air pressure adjustment put Kes out in P13—a spot higher than he was running before. The gained position was due to how quick the entire pit cycle was, including the in lap, stop, and out lap—the fourth-fastest of the round at 2:03.3.

By the time lap 104 came, BK set himself up to earn Stage points as he cracked back into the Top 10, passing Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Trevor Bayne. Under the Stage yellow, Wilson once again elected to change all four tires with adjusted air pressures, and to fill the tank with fuel. Restarting on lap 126 from 10th, he held the spot until the next round of pit work on lap 150. As Kes radioed that his car just wasn’t as strong as the previous run, he was passed by Kenseth, back to 11th.

The race-changing moment came on lap 179 when Gray Gaulding hit the Turn 2 wall. In the middle of a green-flag pit sequence where the 2012 Champion had yet to pit, he entered pit road in ninth, and the full-service stop shot him out in P8 for a lap 183 restart. On that opening lap, contact between Martin Truex Jr. and Kenseth sent the No. 20 hard into the inside of the backstretch. Restarting from the bottom lane in P7, the check-up stacked through the line, pushing Brad back to 11th when Corey LaJoie hit the wall just two laps later.

Wilson made his key call from atop the box under this caution, bringing the No. 2 Wurth Ford in for a fresh set of tires. Restarting eighth, he made it up to P4 after the opening lap, passing Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Blaney, and Clint Bowyer. As the caution was displayed for the final time on lap 196, it set Brad up for a P3 restart, in position to pounce. When it went back green, Kes was able to pass Truex, but had nothing for the No. 42.

“I don’t know if we had anything for Kyle [Larson] and those guys,” Kes said. “That’s the way it goes sometimes when you have a 36 race season. You’re going to have some adversity and days that don’t go your way. That’s the way it was for us today. But we made the most of it, so I’m proud of my guys.”

The incredible start to the 2 Crew’s 2017 season is one for the Team Penske books. Outside of the unpredictable Daytona 500, they’ve managed to finish in the Top 5 over the other four events – including a win, a second, and a pair of fifth-place finishes.

Next week the Monster Energy Cup tour heads back east to Martinsville Speedway, a track where Brad has seen Top 5’s in the last two spring events. See if they can keep the streak alive on Sunday, April 2 for the STP 500, live at 2 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1.

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