Kes Grabs 2nd Best Career Finish at Fontana

Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Wurth Ford Fusion team have said since their win in Las Vegas that they’ll be aggressive above all else—and that was certainly the case in Fontana.

BK restarted sixth and made a courageous charge to join the fight for the lead in overtime of the Auto Club 400, but the move didn’t stick. Brad made it into the Top 5 but ultimately slid back to ninth as Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag. Brad couldn’t quite make it back-to-back wins at Auto Club Speedway, but his P9 finish was still the second best for his career on the rough two-mile surface.

“We gave it all we had with the No. 2 Wurth Ford, but just came up a bit short,” Brad said. “We seemed to be about a fifth to 10th-place car, probably with everybody having some troubles we should have finished fifth.  I slid back to eighth there, which was frustrating, but, all in all, it was a decent day.”

2016 NASCAR Fontana

Tire falloff was the hot topic of the weekend in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The rough surface built by BK’s car owner, Roger Penske, caused tire falloff in just a few mere laps and cut numerous tires throughout the day. That showed in the Wurth Ford, which was strong on short runs but quick to fall off over the long run.

The low-downforce package made for some exciting racing, including a spectacular four-wide pass of Jamie McMurray, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney early on. Kes started 15th, but after that pass, was up to eighth at lap four. But as it did all afternoon, the Deuce began to fall off just short of 10 laps into the run. Still, BK moved up. At lap 20, Kyle Busch pitted when his tire started to go down, and Denny Hamlin did the same, pushing Kes to sixth just before the first caution of the day came when Chris Buescher cut a tire and hit the wall at lap 26.

Early on the ensuing run, Brad made a tremendous move down to the bottom to break into the Top 5 for the first time all day. One lap later, he bested his neighbor in the garage at Team Penske, Joey Logano, for fourth. But that full-on aggression early resulted in a quick falloff. Five laps in, Logano reclaimed fourth, and Brad was back to seventh  when Kyle Larson hit the wall to bring out Caution 2 at lap 48.

On this stop, the 2 Crew’s string of perfection ended. The team earned a penalty when one tire bounced off another during an exchange and rolled to the middle of Brad’s pit box. That miscue sent Brad all the way back to 34th for the lap 53 restart—but the 2 Crew redeemed itself later in the afternoon.

2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, California

Facing a long climb back, Brad ran his Wurth Ford hard gain more than 15 spots and reach the Top 20 by lap 60, but the long-run falloff proved to be even worse in traffic. By the end of the cycle, he had slid back to 28th.

“Keep losing rear grip, big. Trying to take care of it, just can’t keep it,” Brad told his team over the radio. “I think I’ll be hard to beat if I get a short run at the front of the pack.”

Fortunately, the No. 2 team was once again on point during the green flag pit sequence, and Brad cycled back into the Top 20 at the race’s halfway point. Trevor Bayne hit the wall and brought out a caution at lap 107, and the 2 Crew sent Brad off three spots up in 15th. He built on that, grabbing a couple more in the short run that followed. Kes was breathing down the neck of the Top 10, and the Wurth Ford was finally hitting its stride. BK radioed that the car was as strong as it has been all day as he moved into sixth place by the fifth caution flag, which flew for debris at lap 155.

The 2 Crew came up with another critical stop, sending Brad off pit road in third after entering sixth. That allowed him to restart fifth, behind Johnson and Carl Edwards, who did not pit. Kes let loose after the ensuing restart, slicing his way through Kevin Harvick, Edwards and Hamlin into third place with 37 laps to go. The most thrilling sequence of the race followed, as Brad fought in a battle royale for positioning in the front of the pack involving Harvick, Edwards, Hamlin, Johnson, Logano, Busch and several others. Brad passed his way back to third, but soon radioed that his rear grip was gone. He slid back to eighth and was dueling with Edwards for seventh when the final caution came at lap 198.

Brad pitted seventh and was off pit road in sixth in time for the overtime finish. Brad was held up behind Hamlin and Logano on the outside line, setting him back immediately on the two-lap finale. Kes dove down low and passed Edwards for fifth place, but he couldn’t make the pass last. He crossed in ninth amid a pack of five drivers battling for fifth place. Fellow Ford Racing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won that battle for his fourth career Top 5 finish.

Johnson won for the second time this year, becoming the first driver with multiple wins on the season. Brad remains as one of four drivers with a win so far this season.

NEXT UP

NASCAR will take its first off week of the 2016 slate over Easter weekend.

The Cup Series will pick back up on April 3 at Martinsville Speedway for some short-track racing in the STP 500. Brad finished second in the spring race at The Paperclip last year.

The race is set for a 1 p.m. ET start time and will air on FOX Sports 1.

CHASE GRID

 1. Jimmie Johnson – 184 (2)

2. Kevin Harvick – 195 (1)

3. Denny Hamlin – 170 (1)

4. Brad Keselowski – 142 (1)

5. Carl Edwards – 171

6. Kyle Busch – 170

7. Joey Logano – 165

8. Kurt Busch – 148

9. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 145

10. Austin Dillon – 139

11. Martin Truex Jr. – 127

12. Jamie McMurray – 125

13. Aric Almirola – 120

14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 119

15. Matt Kenseth – 113

t-16. Chase Elliott – 110

t-16. Ryan Blaney – 110

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