AVONDALE, Ariz. - Brad Keselowski will race for the 2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Championship, advancing to the Championship 4 on points after a 16th place finish at Phoenix and race win by Matt Kenseth.
Keselowski joins Kevin Harvick, who was the top Ford all day at PIR, finishing fifth, as the two Ford’s that will battle two Toyota’s (Martin Truex Jr., and Kyle Busch) for the title at Homestead Miami Speedway.
“We overcame a lot of obstacles and jumped a lot of hurdles today,” said Keselowski post-race. “I am glad I don’t have to relive this day, that is for sure. I am just looking forward to going to Homestead. This feels a little bit like Christmas. Sometimes you need a little luck on your side. Today we had that.”
That luck came in the form of a blown tire for competitor Denny Hamlin with 36 laps to go. Hamlin had the car to beat all day, but battled hard with Chase Elliott (Chevy) for the lead which resulted in the 11 hitting the wall and cutting a tire that eventually ended his day and championship bid.
With the 11 out of the picture, Keselowski jumped back into the transfer spot, but only briefly as the 24 took the lead, then lost it, giving the spot back to Keselowski as the checkered flag fell.
Unfortunately, luck was not on the side of Ryan Blaney. The Wood Brothers Racing driver led the field to green but struggled early with brake issues and late with a vibration before coming home 17th and missing out on being part of the final four drivers.
“It’s disappointing, but at the same time we have a lot to be proud of for sure,” said Blaney. “The nine weeks that we had is something to be proud of. It’s a shame we’re not racing for the championship, but we can still try to win the race.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. came home eighth and Aric Almirola 9th to give Ford three Fusions in the top-10 on the day.
Next Up: The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to the Homestead-Miami Speedway for the championship race of the 2017 season. The Ford EcoBoost 400 will cap off Ford Championship Weekend Sunday, November 19th, at 3:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC.
MONSTER ENERGY CUP RACE TOP-10 FINISHERS
1st -- Matt Kenseth
2nd -- Chase Elliott
3rd -- Martin Truex Jr.
4th -- Erik Jones
5th -- Kevin Harvick
6th -- Jamie McMurray
7th -- Kyle Busch
8th -- Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
9th -- Aric Almirola
10th -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
REMAINING FORD FINISHERS
12th -- Joey Logano
13th -- Clint Bowyer
16th -- Brad Keselowski
17th -- Ryan Blaney
21st -- Kurt Busch
24th -- Landon Cassill
25th -- Danica Patrick
27th -- Matt DiBenedetto
33rd -- David Ragan
38th -- Trevor Bayne
BRAD KESELOWSKI (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion) -- Finished 16th
“We overcame a lot of obstacles and jumped a lot of hurdles today. I am glad I don’t have to relive this day, that is for sure. I am just looking forward to going to Homestead. This feels a little bit like Christmas. Sometimes you need a little luck on your side. Today we had that. It wasn’t by any means where we wanted to run. We wanted to run up front and have a shot for the win. That wasn’t in the cards. We tried to run the smartest race we could and survive and it ended up paying off in the end.”
WHAT DOES THIS SAY ABOUT YOUR RACE TEAM TO SURVIVE AND ADVANCE? “Homestead is a lot different than Phoenix. Hopefully we can find what we need to run up front there and catch some breaks and win it. I am very hopeful for that. I am proud of the whole team. We had a solid day of not making any mistakes and that put us in position here. It was a great team effort.”
PAUL WOLFE, crew chief, (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion)
“This is nice. We were hopeful to find some speed and be competitive like we were in the spring. As the first stage went by we were quite a ways off. We made some big swings at it and made small improvement but still didn’t have the speed we needed to get up there and contend. That got frustrating to see the 11 leading and then the 24 makes his way up there. You are doing all you can and then some cautions fall and you start to play strategy games and hope that maybe you catch a break strategy wise. Then when the 11 had his issues, obviously there was some hope again I guess. It was just kind of staying calm at that point and trying to stay on the lead lap with our points cushion. Then the 24 took the lead and at that point you are getting all you can and there was still a ways to go and it seemed like he pushed so hard once he got the lead that the 20 was able to get back to him. It was a frustrating day. A lot of emotions today. I am proud of my team and the guys and what we have done all season that put us in position to ultimately be off today but still have enough points to be able to advance to Homestead. That is the key takeaway for me. We have been strong in these playoffs and scored a lot of points and bonus points and that is ultimately what put us in a great position to be off a little today and still have an opportunity.”
TWO FORDS VERSUS TWO TOYOTAS NEXT WEEKEND. WHAT WILL THAT BE LIKE? “It is exciting. It is great. It is exciting to have the two Fords in there. The 4 has been really good and come on strong and I feel like we have put in a good effort here over the last few weeks to make sure we had a little more speed in our cars going to Homestead. We get in these types of situations and I think Brad will be able to find a little more and we just need to go down there and do what we do all year, give it our best. I think we will have a shot at this.”
RYAN BLANEY (No. 21 SKF Ford Fusion) -- Finished 17th
WHAT HAPPENED ON THE LAST RESTART? “We just had no tires. We were debating whether to pit or not there and just didn’t, so that made us fall back. That stinks. I thought we could have stayed up and you never know what could have happened, but we just never had the car all day to compete up front. We did a good job on restarts. I thought we were decent on restarts all day. We were able to start up towards the front and just didn’t work out for us. We still have one more race to go with the Wood Brothers group, so hopefully we can go and have a good run at Miami.”
HOW DISAPPOINTING IS IT TO GET THIS FAR AND NOT GO TO HOMESTEAD WITH A CHANCE TO WIN IT ALL? “It’s disappointing, but at the same time we have a lot to be proud of for sure. The nine weeks that we had is something to be proud of. It’s a shame we’re not racing for the championship, but we can still try to win the race.”
KEVIN HARVICK (No. 4 Busch Light Ford Fusion) -- Finished 5th -- PRESS CONFERENCE
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO MOVE ON WITH A CHANCE TO WIN ANOTHER TITLE? “It means a lot, especially this year switching everything from our manufacturer to Ford and just seeing the steady climb of performance and peaking as the Playoffs started and running good on really every race track that we’ve been to and this has by far been our best round -- all three top fives and a win. It’s the right time of the year to be peaking. I feel really good about our mile-and-a-half program. Homestead has been a great race track for us through the years and hopefully we can go down there and contend. I think, for us, you’re really happy with where you are just for the fact that I think as a company we know what we went through and kind of playing on house money at this point, so we’re gonna go down there and wing it and see what happens.”
TONY SAID EARLIER THAT HE’S SEEN THIS SCRIPT BEFORE WITH YOU AND YOU ARE GOING TO GO DOWN TO HOMESTEAD AND WIN. IS IT THAT EASY FOR YOU? “We have every intention of doing that. Our intention is to go down there and win the championship and I think if you’re one of those four and you don’t have that mentality, you’re not prepared for what you’re getting into because I feel like you’re gonna have to win the race, you’re gonna have to not make mistakes. We’ve seen it year after year, mistakes and circumstances and things happen and you have to be there first, you have to have a chance and you have to think you can do it. We know we can do it and I think there are three past champions and a guy that has run well all year and won a lot of races, so it’s not like it’s gonna be just check the box and send the check. It’s guys that have done this before and won races, but for us we’re confident in our team and feel like we should have a chance.”
FROM THE MENTAL TOUGHNESS ASPECT THAT IS REQUIRED TO WIN A TITLE IS THIS MAYBE THE STRONGEST FIELD? “I wouldn’t say it’s the strongest field because I think as you look at the past, and if I’m not mistaken, I know the 78 has been there before, the 18 has been there before obviously. I don’t know if Brad has been there before or not in this particular format, but it’s not something that these guys are just gonna cave in and give up on what they’re doing. Three of us have won championships and Martin has won a lot of races this year, so the pressure is really on the 78 and the 18. Those guys have dominated the year and I feel like if they don’t win at this point they would probably feel like they’ve had a letdown, so it’s a lot of fun coming from behind and playing catch-up and kind of playing that underdog role is much easier than being expected to go down there and win. We expect to win.”
TREVOR BAYNE (No. 6 Ford EcoBoost Ford Fusion) -- Finished 38th
“I just lost right-front there off of turn four. I’ve done that in an XFINITY car before and it doesn’t feel good. That wall gets pretty head-on once you’re coming off like that and I was just running hard trying to stay in the free pass and trying to catch Denny and the 19 and those guys so we could get back to being one down. The bead just got hot and blew. We had a little damage early on when they checked up and knocked the bead fan off, so that cooling wasn’t getting there. The car got really tight for about three laps and we were in our pit window, we were gonna be coming in a couple laps and it just didn’t hang on. It was a really hard hit. That’s probably one of the harder frontal impacts I’ve had, but I feel fine and ready to go.”
WHAT DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU HIT THAT HARD? “Ouch. That’s what you feel. You don’t let go of the steering wheel and a lot of people do and I try to hang on and I tried at the last second to get my hand off and wasn’t quick enough so it ripped the steering wheel out of my hand. That’s the only thing that hurt -- my left wrist a little bit, but it’s fine. I’ve hurt it worse on a mountain bike before, so I feel all right. I was really thankful we have the safety stuff we have because those kind of impacts hurt. Fortunately, I’m all right and ready to go to Homestead.”
ARIC ALMIROLA (No. 43 U.S. Air Force Ford Fusion) -- Finished 9th
“It was a great run for us, a top 10. I’m really proud of all the effort here to close out the season with these guys here on the 43 team. It’s Veteran’s Day weekend and pretty cool to get the U.S. Air Force a top 10. I’m proud of everybody and we’ve got one more to go.”
RICKY STENHOUSE JR. (No. 17 Robert Yates Tribute Ford Fusion) -- Finished 8th
“I’m real happy with that after starting last from my mistake in qualifying. We kept working on our car. It was really good on long runs and then we actually got it pretty decent on the short run as well. It was a really good day for our guys and look forward to trying to carry this momentum into Homestead and try to finish 11th in points.”
BRAD KESELOWSKI (POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE)
TALK ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS TO RACE FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP NEXT WEEK IN MIAMI. “All right, yeah, just feel glad to make it through today, you know, and have a shot next week. You never know how these things are going to play out. Certainly would be a stretch by any means by how we ran today to say we're the favorite, but we are glad to be there, and you never know how those races are going to shake out. On to next week.”
BRAD, I ASKED PAUL WOLFE IF HE FELT LUCKY, AND HE SAID HE BELIEVES IN KARMA AND HE FELT LIKE THINGS WERE TAKEN AWAY FROM YOU GUYS AT MARTINSVILLE AND KIND OF GOT THE RESULT TODAY. DO YOU FEEL THE SAME? “I don't know. I'm a big subscriber that it takes speed, execution and luck to win, and I think we probably had some really solid execution last week in Texas, great speed at Martinsville and luck today. You know, if you put all three of them together on any given day, you can win, and we haven't done that in this round, but we had one of each in all three races, and that put us in position to be here. You know, I don't know. I mean, the karma word sure does seem to get thrown around a lot, and I'm not sure what the hell it means, but the reality is that this year we made it through this round, and I'm thankful for that, and hopeful that we can make it count next weekend.”
BRAD, WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD? YOU JOKED ABOUT PULLING FOR MATT, BUT REALLY WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR HEAD WHEN CHASE WAS LEADING AND YOU WERE OUT THERE KNOWING THAT THAT WAS YOUR SHOT TO MAKE IT TO HOMESTEAD? “Well, this is such an aero track, I didn't think anybody would be able to run him down. Chase was pretty fast, and the track itself was kind of one groove. I think a couple times it moved up on super long runs, but it wasn't a super long run there at the end. There was only 25, 30 laps. I thought quite honestly that the race was over and that Chase was going to win. I still don't know what happened that Matt passed him. I was pretty busy with my own race. But I kind of thought it was over and that the 24 was going to win.”
BRAD, YOUR TEAMMATE HAS BEEN IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP 4 THIS ELIMINATION STYLE AT HOMESTEAD A COUPLE TIMES. DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT'S A DISADVANTAGE THAT YOU HAVEN'T BEEN IN THIS STYLE OF FORMAT AT HOMESTEAD YET, OR DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU KNOW: “I don't know. I hadn't really thought about that. I'm still hot and sweaty from Phoenix. I think I'm just glad to be in it, and we'll have a great opportunity. I'm thankful for that. I'd like to be in it and probably have come off a couple races where we were the fastest car. That sure would make you feel good. But where we're at and the way these formats go and single race like this, you just don't know what's going to happen. I mean, it's one race to determine a championship, and anything can happen. Shoot, anything happened today, not that there wasn't as much on the line, but it certainly wasn't the championship. You have no idea what's going to happen next week, and I think it's easy to read too much into it. It's easy to read not enough into it, and at the end of the day, I'm just going to get in the race car and drive it.”
AFTER YOU WON TALLADEGA YOU SAID MARTINSVILLE YOU PRETTY MUCH HAD TO WIN BECAUSE YOU WERE DOWN ON SPEED. THEN AFTER MARTINSVILLE YOU SAID THAT WAS PRETTY MUCH OUR CHANCE MAYBE. YOU COME IN HERE AND MAYBE DON'T HAVE THE BEST WEEKEND, IT'S NOT LOOKING GOOD, AND THEN YOU MAKE IT. ARE YOU IN SOME DISBELIEF RIGHT NOW OR ARE YOU STUNNED AT ALL? “Yeah, absolutely. Just sometimes things happen that you just don't understand why for good and for bad. You know, this year for us ‑‑ obviously it wasn't for Denny or for Chase, it was good for us. I don't know. I don't know why things opened up this way. I don't know why in the past two or three years the doors have closed in strange ways where two of the last ‑‑ really the last three years we've broken parts that should never break and been eliminated out of this whole format with much faster cars than we've had this year. Who's to say? It's just part of the ebbs and flows and how racing smiles on you and frowns on you at times.”