First, Brad Keselowski figured out the secret to restarting at the Brickyard 400.
Then he safely and strategically bumped his way into the lead and sped to the finish line.
One year after settling for second in a chaotic, crash-marred race last year, Keselowski redeemed himself by earning his second straight major win and finally giving team owner Roger Penske the elusive Brickyard win.
The 2010 Cup champion got past race leader Denny Hamlin on the second-to-last lap and beat Erik Jones to the finish line by 0.904 seconds. Hamlin finished third.
“Last year, I lost this race almost the exact same way. To bring it home this way, after messing up last year, is just incredible,” Keselowski said. “We were hoping this would be No. 500 and the Brickyard, but that’s all right.”
Penske certainly won’t be complaining about getting win No. 499 on the same historic 2.5-mile oval where he has won a record 17 Indianapolis 500 crowns.
His first win 25 Cup tries at his favorite racing venue came on one of the rare days he wasn’t actually attending in the pits for the rain-delayed race.
But Penske now joins Chip Ganassi as the only owners to win the Indy double in the same season. Will Power captured his first 500 win in May, while Dario Franchitti and Jamie McMurray both won at the Brickyard in 2010 for Ganassi.
The timing couldn’t be better for Keselowski. He heads into the first round of the playoffs with momentum following wins at the Southern 500 and the Brickyard.
And he earned this one the hard way.
He stayed close off the final restart with three laps to go, then quickly chased down Hamlin, running side by side with the race leader briefly on Lap 159. At one point, the cars touched but both drivers maintained control and Keselowski made the decisive move in the front straightaway just as the white flag started to come out.
Nobody got close again.
“Not having guys in the back wreck,” Hamlin said when asked what could have gone differently, referring to the late crash involving Landon Cassill and Jeffrey Earnhardt. “That allowed all the guys who take tires to come back up there at the end. It happens sometimes.”
Hamlin’s consolation prize will be joining Keselowski and Jones in the first round of the playoffs next week.
Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman captured the final two open playoff spots in the 10-race sprint to the championship.