Kevin Harvick finishes second for eighth straight top-two finish RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings FONTANA, Calif. -- After Sunday's Auto Club 400 , there may be a warrant issued for Brad Keselowski . After all, the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford committed his own version of "Grand Theft Auto" at Auto Club Speedway -- he stole an entire race. Benefitting from a four-tire call on the last lap of regulation and two opportune cautions that extended the event nine laps beyond its scheduled distance, Keselowski passed polesitter Kurt Busch on the final lap (209) and pulled away to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season. Trying to make one last desperation run at Keselowski , Busch scraped the wall in the final corner at the two-mile track, allowing Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick to pass him for the runner-up spot. Keselowski arrived at the finish line .711 seconds ahead of Harvick, simultaneously taking the checkered flag and leading his first lap of the day. The 2012 champion, who led the series with six victories last year, recorded his first victory at Fontana -- and his first finish higher than 18th -- and the 17th of his career. "At the end, we caught some breaks, made the most of the breaks we caught," Keselowski said. "That was kind of the story of our race. It looked like we were probably going to finish sixth or seventh. That yellow came out (on Lap 185 for debris). We came in and pitted and drove up a little bit, then caught another yellow. Now what do we do? "So (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) made the call to come down pit road and put four tires on. When he said that, I said, 'This can either go really good or really bad.' Didn't know which one it was going to be. Some guys stayed out, some guys took two tires, all different types of strategies on the restart. "We were able to find our way through the lanes and get to the front there, somehow end up in Victory Lane leading the last lap. Kind of a race car driver's dream. This is one we're going to sit back and go 'Wow!' for a while." Keselowski can call it a break, but it was theft, pure and simple. Aside from a stretch before the halfway point where Denny Hamlin got out front in clean air and led 56 laps, the cars of Busch and Harvick dominated the race, leading 65 and 34 laps, respectively. But Keselowski ’s Wolfe made what turned out to be the winning call on Lap 200, after NASCAR called the sixth caution of the race because of debris in Turn 4. Opting for four new tires, where the vast majority of the field took right sides only for track position, Keselowski restarted 18th on the first attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish on Lap 203. The No. 2 Fusion quickly moved forward. When Kyle Larson lost his bumper cover during a melee on the restart, NASCAR threw caution No. 7, and by then, Keselowski was already up to seventh place. Using the new tires to full advantage, Keselowski shot into second place like a lightning bolt after a green-white-checkered restart on Lap 208. As Greg Biffle crashed on the frontstretch on the white-flag lap, Keselowski rocketed past Busch off Turn 2 and pulled away for the win. Busch came home third, followed by Richard Childress Racing teammates Paul Menard and Ryan Newman . Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Joey Logano , Martin Truex Jr ., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon completed the top 10. Having won at Las Vegas and Phoenix in the previous two races, Harvick fell one position shy of completing a sweep of NASCAR's three-race West Coast swing, but he could commiserate with Busch, who was trying to win for the first time this season after serving a three-race suspension. "I hate that the 41 (Busch) wasn't able to hold on for the win there," said Harvick, who posted his eighth straight top-two finish, dating to last year, and extended his series lead over Logano to 28 points. "I would have loved to see those guys get their first win. "But you never know how the strategy is going to play out here. There's so many cars on the lead lap, you didn't want to get buried in there (by taking four tires). One little bad move for Brad , he would have been stuck in the middle of that traffic. But it all worked out for him. The second restart, he was in prime position up on the outside with fresh tires." Busch was disappointed but philosophical about the result. "It was a solid day," Busch said. "I don't know what we could have done different. We just got pinned in by the yellows and the sequence at the end on which tires we needed to have to optimize how many laps were left. "We had two tires; Keselowski had four. We didn't need that extra yellow at the end. That last restart, I just didn't get the job done, and I just got out muscled by Keselowski ." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today All-time consecutive top-two finishes Streak Driver Year 11 Richard Petty 1975 10 Richard Petty 1971 10 Richard Petty 1967 9 Richard Petty 1964 8 Kevin Harvick 2014-15 8 David Pearson 1968
Brad Keselowski takes the lead on the final lap of a Green, White, Checkered finish to win the Auto Club 400.
Brad Keselowski celebrates in Victory Lane after winning his first race at Auto Club Speedway.
Brad Keselowski talks about the wild finish to the Auto Club 400 and the gutsy call made by Paul Wolfe to take four tires at the end of the race.
Jon Housholder recaps the Auto Club 400 as Brad Keselowski makes a late race charge to pull off an upset win at Auto Club Speedway.
Brad Keselowski talks about Paul Wolfe's decision to take four tires on the final pit stop, which led to a Fontana victory.
Rash of late cautions derailed No. 2 team's Phoenix plan RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings AVONDALE, Ariz. -- With Kevin Harvick 's desert dominance on everyone's mind, strategy plays were the tactic of choice to potentially break up his monopoly. The No. 2 team of Brad Keselowski tried its hand with two such ploys, but it ultimately wasn't enough with how the cautions fell in the CampingWorld.com 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on Sunday. Keselowski finished sixth, while Harvick won his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season and fourth straight at the 1-mile oval. Afterward, Keselowski lamented the fact that Chevrolet teams seem to have a little more speed than the other manufacturers right now. "We just didn't quite have enough speed," Keselowski said. "I thought we were about a third- or fourth-place car and got shuffled to finish where we did. It was a great effort. We have to keep working to find more speed. There are a lot of Chevys up there and we need to get our Fords running a tiny bit better." Team Penske 's No. 2 crew made two crucial strategy calls during the race. One worked out well, while circumstances disrupted the other. A caution on Lap 117 saw all the front-runners come down pit road, and Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe decided to take two tires. That lifted the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion from fourth place to the lead. From there the 31-year-old was out front for 52 laps -- 41 more than he had led in the season's previous three events. Through three races last year, Keselowski had led 69 laps and already had a race win to his credit. "We had that one run where we got out to the lead and led like 50 laps which was second to Harvick, that is something here," Keselowski said. Keselowski gave up the lead for good on Lap 171, but spent the next 50-plus laps in the top three. During his pit stop after the race's seventh caution on Lap 227, Keselowski shook up the strategy some more. This time, pitting from third place, Wolfe and Co. elected to put on four tires. The No. 2 restarted in 17th place on Lap 234, with the hope being a lengthy green-flag run would aid their chances of getting back to the front. However, three more cautions came out between the Lap 234 restart and the finish of the race, allowing drivers on older tires to keep track position near the front. Keselowski rose as high as fifth place on Lap 289, but fell back to sixth by the checkered flag as a surging Kurt Busch slipped past him for the final spot in the top five. "Everybody was on a different strategy it seemed, and it didn't quite pan out for us to get the third or fourth we deserved but we ran really well," Keselowski said. For the first time all season, Keselowski led more laps in a race than Team Penske teammate Joey Logano . And despite leading 35 circuits himself, Keselowski's younger teammate was direct in his assessment about whose car had the upper hand. " Brad had the better car, for sure," Logano said after his eighth-place finish. "The finishing order kind of showed that." For Keselowski , the sixth-place result continued his upward trajectory for the season as he has improved on his finish in each race. After a crash in the season-opening Daytona 500 led to his day ending early and a 41st-place result, he has rolled off three consecutive top-10s with a ninth-place finish at Atlanta and a seventh-place finish at Las Vegas. The Phoenix finish also saw him rise seven spots in the point standings. Still, unlike last year, when the No. 2 crew came out firing with a win and three straight top-three finishes, something seems to be lacking in the early going. Keselowski said he knows exactly what it is. "We just have to find some more speed," he said. "That is the common theme." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
2012 Sprint Cup champion optimistic about remaining Speedweeks slate Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live " Vote: Ultimate Daytona Challenge MORE: Full Sprint Unlimited results DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Brad Keselowski didn't get much chance to test out his Team Penske No. 2 Ford in race trim in Saturday night's season-opening Sprint Unlimited exhibition. After just 23 laps, Keselowski's car skidded to a halt in a mangled heap, leaving him with a last-place finish in the invitational 25-car field at Daytona International Speedway. RELATED: See the best photos from Saturday's race According to the former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ, there wasn't much to see. "The wall," Keselowski said, regarding his line of sight. "I don't know. I really need to see a replay to give an honest answer. The car is tore up so we are out but it was fast, so that was good." The first melee of the 75-lapper was sparked by a collision between Kyle Larson's No. 42 Chevrolet and Keselowski's No. 2 in the short chute before the start-finish line. Though Larson, last year's Sunoco Rookie of the Year, was able to continue, Keselowski's car shuffled down into the trioval grass before making hard contact with the outside wall. "Sorry, man. Larson came up on me," Keselowski radioed to his crew, before making the mandatory trip to the infield care center. Keselowski was uninjured, evaluated and released. Though his stint in the race was a short one, Keselowski gave a thumbs-up to how his car felt in race conditions. "Well, there wasn't much different about this package," he said. "It is more the intermediate and short track stuff but I thought it was good. It was pretty racey out there." Lead some laps and then wrecked; that's how plate racin goes... Happy and proud of my guys for the fast car. Time to focus on #DAYTONA500 — Brad Keselowski (@ keselowski ) February 15, 2015 Keselowski hit the showers early for a 25th-place finish, well before the non-points race drew to a close. But though he was resigned to his Saturday night fate, he said he's optimistic for the balance of the schedule, which culminates in the Feb. 22 Daytona 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX). "It's part of racing at Daytona," said Keselowski , who led two laps after starting fourth. "Really happy with the speed of the Miller Lite Ford. We've got a lot of racing left in Speedweeks, this is just a preliminary and we'll be ready to go when it counts in the 500." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Third-place finish after late cautions didn't diminish day's gains Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live FONTANA, Calif. -- The disappointment was palpable as Kurt Busch candidly answered questions from a handful of reporters huddled around his No. 41 Chevrolet on Auto Club Speedway pit lane Sunday afternoon. A hundred yards away Brad Keselowski was performing a loud victory burnout for the sold-out California crowd. The celebration could have easily belonged to Busch, who started from the pole position, led a race-high six times for a race-best 65 laps, but finished third after getting out-maneuvered on the restart of NASCAR's second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish. Keselowski led only that final lap. Busch was obviously letdown by the outcome. Yet even in the highly emotional moments immediately after the race, he didn't deflect his fortune on the late caution flag controversy. Busch actually seemed upbeat despite the outcome. "I don't know what we could have done different,'' Busch said matter-of-factly. "We just got pinned in by the yellows and the sequence at the end on which tires we needed to have to optimize how many laps were left. "We had two tires; Keselowski had four. We didn't need that extra yellow at the end, and I just got out-muscled by Keselowski ." And contrary to what one might have expected, Busch even described the day as being "fantastic" overall. For him, every day racing a Sprint Cup car is fantastic. After missing the first three races of the 2015 while serving a NASCAR suspension for legal issues off-track, Busch has wasted no time returning to form behind the wheel of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet. He started eighth and finished fifth in his first race back at Phoenix a week ago and added a Coors Light Pole Award and third-place effort in California. In those two starts, Busch has earned more points (82) than four drivers who have started all five races -- his team owner Tony Stewart among those he has outpaced in just two races ( see the full standings here ). And because NASCAR granted Busch an exemption, he is Chase eligible as long as he stays among the top 30 in points. He's already 28th. "Some of it is the preparation of the team and some of it is the cars coming back toward my driving style," Busch explained of his fast start. "I like cars with less downforce in the rear and that balance feel I think has complemented the way that I drive. So, honestly I think it has to do with some of the rules packages that NASCAR has implemented and you've got to drive the car a little bit looser." After winning the pole position at the super fast California 2-miler on Friday, Busch insisted he wasn't looking for redemption necessarily. But he was frank about how much it means to be back in a car and the extra motivation he carries. "It's about driving,'' Busch said. "I have said it before on how this is a privilege to have a chance to drive at this top level. When it is taken away from you or you have made a mistake and you don't get a chance to go out there and do it on your terms, it is tough. "I don't have anything to prove. I have my job to do, which is to go out there, drive and race for wins." His talent has never been in question, but his drive has never more apparent. "(I'm) just putting the blinders on and focusing on the car," Busch said. "It's my love. It's my passion. It's what I do." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Wrapping up the week that was and look forward to the week ahead Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Hendrick Motorsports will have five teams vying for starting positions in Sunday's STP 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1) NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway , but HMS officials aren't skirting the rules. Since 2006, NASCAR has limited Sprint Cup organizations to no more than four full-time teams. However, officials allow a fifth entry for a maximum of seven starts "for the purpose of enabling a rookie driver … to become familiar with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition." In addition to full-time teams for drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Jeff Gordon , Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne , HMS will field a fifth entry for defending XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott at Martinsville. It will be Elliott's first attempt in the Sprint Cup Series, one of five scheduled for the 19-year-old this season. Elliott will also be entered in Sprint Cup races at Richmond (April 25), Charlotte (May 24), Indianapolis (July 26) and Darlington (Sept. 6). The No. 25 Chevrolet will carry sponsorship from NAPA and will be led by crew chief Kenny Francis. Elliott is slated to replace Gordon in the team's No. 24 Chevrolet beginning in 2016. It will be the first time an organization has fielded five Sprint Cup teams in one race since 2009 provided Elliott qualifies for the 43-car field. HMS fielded a fifth team on a part-time basis that season for driver Brad Keselowski -- his final start with HMS came at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October. Roush Fenway Racing was allowed to field five full-time teams through the end of '09 due to sponsorship agreements that were in place when the cap was announced three years earlier. MORE INSPECTION TIME ADDED • NASCAR will continue to incorporate additional time into the pre-qualifying inspection process as the Sprint Cup Series returns from a three-week West Coast swing and heads to Martinsville. Schedule adjustments at Las Vegas, Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway resulted in an additional 15 minutes of off-track time at each venue to allow teams to prepare and present their cars for pre-qualifying inspection and for officials to complete the inspection process. The move came in the wake of inspection delays at the season's second event, the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway . Thirteen cars were unable to complete the pre-qualifying inspection process in time to post an official first-round qualifying lap at Atlanta. Friday's schedule at Martinsville indicates changes from '14 that will provide an additional 10 minutes of time between the end of opening practice and the start of qualifying. Compared to last year's Martinsville spring race schedule, opening practice is now five minutes shorter (12-1:25 p.m. ET) and qualifying will being later (4:45 p.m. instead of 4:40 p.m.). In addition, in a NASCAR bulletin distributed to teams, the first round of Sprint Cup Series qualifying will now be 20 minutes at short tracks and intermediate tracks. This takes affect at Martinsville this weekend. NO PRACTICE PENALTIES • No teams required more than three attempts to pass pre-qualifying inspection at Auto Club Speedway , meaning none will be docked 15 minutes at the beginning of practice Friday at Martinsville. NASCAR notified teams earlier this year that any vehicle that fails qualifying inspection more than twice will be subject to a 15-minute practice penalty that will be applied during the opening practice of the next scheduled event. TIRES IMPOUNDED • NASCAR impounded the tires from four teams following Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway . Tires from the teams of Kevin Harvick and teammate Kurt Busch ( Stewart-Haas Racing ), as well as teammates Ryan Newman and Paul Menard ( Richard Childress Racing ) went back to the NASCAR R&D Center for evaluation. Harvick and Busch finished second and third, respectively, while Menard finished fourth and Newman fifth. It marked the second time this season that NASCAR had impounded tires following a Sprint Cup Series event. The sanctioning body took tires from the teams of race winner Harvick and eighth-place finisher Joey Logano after this month’s Phoenix race. No issues with the Phoenix tires were found, according to NASCAR officials. Sunday's race was the first for teams with the new left-side tire code at Auto Club. There was no change in the right-side tires. • According to Goodyear, Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series teams will run the same Goodyear tire codes this weekend at Martinsville used when the two series visited the half-mile track last October. This particular tire is not used for any other events by the two series. PIT ROAD PENALTIES • Officials in NASCAR's Pit Road Officiating (PRO) trailer called 12 of the 22 penalties issued during Sunday’s Auto Club 400 , the second fewest through this year’s first five races. Six of the 12 were for tire violations -- failure to control an outside tire. Only Phoenix saw fewer total violations (19) and those made by officials in the PRO trailer (nine). There have been 158 penalties thus far this season, including 60 that were called by the PRO group. Officials in the tower continue to call infractions for speeding when entering/exiting pit road, pitting before pit road is open and various safety-related violations. Officials in the PRO trailer use video to respond to potential infractions such as too many crewmen in contact with the pit service area, crewmen over the wall too soon and pit box tire violations. PENALTIES FOR FONTANA INFRACTIONS • On Wednesday, NASCAR issued penalities for infractions during race weekend at Auto Club Speedway . Click here for penalties on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series No. 33 team, and click here for penalties on the NASCAR XFINITY Series No. 8 team. POST-RACE INSPECTIONS • Because of the schedule that saw teams competing at Las Vegas, Phoenix and Auto Club Speedway in consecutive weeks, final post-race inspection for entries from both Phoenix and Auto Club will be conducted Wednesday at the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina. Both Stewart-Haas Racing entries of driver Kevin Harvick , which finished first and second at Phoenix and Auto Club, respectively, were sent back to the R&D Center as well as the cars of Auto Club winner Brad Keselowski ( Team Penske ) and Phoenix runner-up Jamie McMurray ( Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates). MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule