Brad Keselowski’s prospects of qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 race weren’t looking good.
Keselowski entered Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway with a 19-point lead over Denny Hamlin for the final spot in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but by the end of the second stage of the race, his advantage was gone.
Hamlin finished second in the first stage and won the second to pull even with Keselowski, who was mired in traffic with an ill-handling No. 2 Team Penske Ford and scored no points in either of the first two stages.
Hamlin led 193 laps and appeared headed to Homestead before eventual race runner-up Chase Elliott pinched Hamlin’s Toyota into the outside wall. Five laps later, Hamlin was out of the race after a blown tire and hard contact with the turn three wall, and Keselowski preserved his spot in the championship race with a 16th-place finish.
“It kind of feels a little bit like Christmas,” Keselowski said. “We overcame a lot of obstacles and jumped a lot of hurdles today. I’m glad I don’t have to relive this day, that’s for sure. I’m just looking forward to going to Homestead.
“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.”