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1. Brad Keselowski (LW: 1): Saturday night was the second time Keselowski’s had an adventurous second-place finish in 2017. He finished second at Auto Club following early race contact and he went two laps down at Kansas thanks to an unscheduled pit stop because of a loose wheel and a subsequent pit road penalty.
But thanks to the race’s 15 caution flags, Keselowski was able to get back on the lead lap. And then he had a little bit of luck. As Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson got together right after a restart, Keselowski sailed to their outside. And then he sailed to the outside again around Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney on the race’s final run.
“Every time we started to pass cars and cycle up to the front, we had some kind of issue, which was a real bummer to not be able to showcase the strength that we had,” Keselowski said. “Towards the end we were able to get some runs and make the most of it, and I think we went from probably 20th with 100 to go to second, which was a pretty big climb in the sport. That’s something to be proud of, but I kind of feel like I would have liked to have seen if it would have just played out normal, and I think we might have had a shot at him.
2. Martin Truex Jr. (LW: 11): Saturday’s victory was redemption of sorts for Truex. In 2012, he dominated the Kansas spring race, leading 173 of the race’s 267 laps. But he was passed by Denny Hamlin with 31 laps to go and finished second.
In 2016, he was just as good, leading 172 of the 267 laps. But a lug nut got hung on the team’s final scheduled stop and he ended up finishing 14th.
There would be no bad break this year. Maybe the key was to lead fewer laps. Truex led 104 laps Saturday night and passed Ryan Blaney with a masterful restart move on the third-to-last restart of the race. Afterward, Truex called his second win of the season “sweet redemption.”
“You don’t forget those days that ones got away or you screwed up and gave one away or anything like that,” Truex said. “You never forget those things. They always stick with you. Definitely last year was probably the biggest heart breaker to have the craziest thing happen that you could ever imagine, and eight‑second lead just gone and wherever ‑‑ I don’t remember where we finished because it was so heartbreaking.”
3. Kyle Larson (LW: 3): Larson’s freakish consistency is continuing. He didn’t have the outright speed that others had Saturday night but he stayed near the front of the field and ended up finishing sixth. It was his second sixth-place finish of the season and, oddly enough, he hasn’t finished between second and sixth so far this season.
4. Kevin Harvick (LW: 7): A lug nut flew through Harvick’s window on a pit stop and fell to the floor of the car beneath his feet. No big deal, right? Well, Harvick remarked on his radio that it was the first time a lug nut had gotten into the cockpit and it was apparently pretty hot after it was taken off the car.
Harvick also went a lap down after he had to make an unscheduled pit stop because of a tire problem. But he came back and finished third.
5. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (LW: 4): Stenhouse followed the first win of his career with an 11th-place finish. He’s 13th in the points standings and just 15 points behind Ryan Blaney in 11th.
6. Jamie McMurray (LW: 6): McMurray’s consistency isn’t being outdone by Larson’s. His eighth-place finish was his seventh top-10 finish of the season. Larson also has seven top-10s, though he’s got five top fives to McMurray’s one. But Jamie Mac is now fifth in the points and it’s going to take a collapse of crazy proportions for him to miss out on the playoffs.
7. Jimmie Johnson (LW: 7): Jimmie Johnson’s night might have been more impressive than Keselowski’s if he wouldn’t have collided with Kurt Busch. After missing qualifying because of inspection issues, Johnson started at the back of the pack. He was quickly in the top 10 and finished the first segment in sixth.
A flat tire caused a caution and an unscheduled pit stop in the second segment, but Johnson was on the charge again and made it back inside the top 10 with relative ease. He was probably going to finish around fifth until he collided with Busch and Denny Hamlin on lap 264. And if there would have been 20 laps remaining instead of two after that crash, Johnson could have finished in the top 15.
He ended up 24th.
8. Kyle Busch (LW: 10): Busch used the word “mediocre” in his post-race interview on Fox to describe the speed of his car. He finished fifth and won the first stage.
“It seems like our mediocre days are top five days which is good but we just don’t have the speed to be first,” Busch said. “We just don’t have that dominant speed to be up there and be up there all day.”
And he’s right. The car tailed off as the sun set and Busch didn’t have one of the fastest cars at the end of the race. And he’s also right to be a bit frustrated. Joe Gibbs Racing hasn’t won yet, though he’s seventh in the standings.
9. Clint Bowyer (LW: 8): Bowyer is 10th in the standings, just eight points behind Busch. He finished ninth on Saturday after a roller coaster day himself. Bowyer has the fourth-best average finish in the Cup Series, but he’s outside the top five because he’s got far fewer stage points than anyone else in the top 10. Bowyer has 28 stage points through the first 11 races. No other driver in the top 10 has less than 62.
10. Joey Logano (LW: 5): Logano would be 33 points behind Bowyer in the standings without stage points. In NASCAR’s new format, Logano is three points ahead of Bowyer in the standings. That gap is because Logano has collected 64 stage points this season.
11. Ryan Blaney (LW: NR): While we’re on the topic of stage points, only Larson, Truex, Keselowski and Chase Elliott have scored more stage points than Blaney has this year. But he’s back in 11th in the standings because his average finish is 19th. And that’s after his fourth on Saturday night.
12. Chase Elliott (LW: 9): The damage Elliott suffered to the right front of his car was quite remarkable given the low speed of his pit road collision with Michael McDowell. That damage ruined Elliott’s day and he ended up finishing 29th.
Lucky Dog: Daniel Suarez finished seventh, his best finish of the season.
The DNF: Ryan Newman finished last thanks to an oil pump problem.
Dropped out: Denny Hamlin
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