Brad Keselowski’s first start in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season was a long and productive one.
Keselowski held off pole-winner Justin Allgaier over the final 22 laps and survived two rain delays totaling over two hours to win Saturday’s DC Solar 200 at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.
The victory was in Keselowski’s first series start of the season with Team Penske and 36th of his career. He also overcame a pit road speeding penalty in Stage 2.
“It was a good car. I thought the car was better than me today,” Keselowski said in Victory Lane. “Justin Allgaier quite honestly out-drove me most of the day.
“At the end we connected it with a great pit stop, great pit work, great strategy and got out there on the brand new tires and just barely got by (Bell) there and I knew once we kind of got by ourselves, the car would probably carry me a little bit.”
Keselowski said he picked this race for his limited Xfinity schedule to help him on the Cup side.
“It’s a track that I haven’t ran very well at lately and I know I’m making mistakes and I want to get better at it,” he said. “This certainly bodes well for the rest of the weekend.”
Kyle Busch finished third, Christopher Bell fourth and Jamie McMurray – making his first series start since 2013 – completed the top-five.
Bell moved into the lead with 36 of 200 laps remaining but the race leaders still had to make their final green-flag pit stops with 32 to go.
Ten laps later, Keselowski cycled back into the lead for the final time.
Busch held off Daniel Hemric in a one-lap dash to claim the Stage 2 victory.
Cole Custer finished third, McMurray was fourth and Ryan Truex completed the top-five.
Completing the Top 10 were Spencer Gallagher, Allgaier, Kaz Grala, J.J. Yeley and Ross Chastain.
Tyler Reddick led the way to start the green-flag racing in Stage 2 after he, Ryan Reed, Elliott Sadler and Alex Labbe all elected not to pit and remained on the track. Allgaier lined up fifth, the first car that pit.
Keselowski was the first driver off pit road, but was penalized by NASCAR for speeding on pit road.
Busch, who restarted sixth, moved into the lead on Lap 54.
With six laps remaining in the stage, Matt Mills got in the wall in Turn 1 to bring out a caution just as light rain was reported again around the track.
Allgaier, Bell, Keselowski and several others elected to pit under the caution while Busch stayed on the track and retained the lead. The rain picked up and the red flag was displayed for the second time, with three laps remaining in the stage.
After a more than 25-minute delay, the race returned to green with one of the 45 laps of the stage remaining.
Allgaier grabbed the lead with 11 laps remaining in the 45-lap segment and held off Bell to claim the victory in Stage 1 and the playoff point that goes with it.
Keselowski finished third, Busch was fourth and Hemric completed the top-five.
Rounding out the Top 10 were McMurray, Matt Tifft, Brandon Jones, Ty Dillon and Truex.
Just after the completion of the stage, the red flag was displayed by NASCAR as rain picked up around the track. The race resumed after a nearly one hour and 35 minute delay.
“Glad that the caution for the stage came out, I’m not sure how much further our left-rear tire would have lasted,” Allgaier said during the break. “Hopefully we’ll be there at the end of the race, not just at the end of the stage.”
Keselowski said he was surprised when the red flag was displayed.
“I knew it was raining a little bit, but I didn’t know it was raining this hard until I got to pit road,” he said. “We’ll hopefully be able to recover and drive back up to the front.”
David Starr brought out the first caution of the race on Lap 27 after it appeared he experienced an engine issue. The car’s cockpit filled with smoke as he came to a stop on the track. The race resumed with 11 laps remaining in the stage and Keselowski leading the way.
Allgaier, who started on the pole, reclaimed the lead on the restart.
Sadler and Reddick – who entered the race tied atop the series standings – were forced to start the race from the rear of the field. Sadler’s team made an engine change over the weekend while Reddick was forced to use a backup car after a wreck in qualifying.
Custer also had to start the race from the rear of the field after his team made unapproved adjustments following impound.