Brad Keselowski surges late, wins at Charlotte

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When tonight’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway was effectively transformed into a 23-lap sprint race, Brad Keselowski was the fastest when it counted.

A debris yellow with 28 laps to go set up a frenzied dash to the finish, and Keselowski was able to charge from sixth off the restart to the front with nine laps remaining before going on to score his first Sprint Cup win in the last 38 races.

The late caution ended what had been a dominant run from Jimmie Johnson in the middle section of the race. Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon used two-tire stops under the yellow to move ahead of Johnson (who took four tires), and on the restart, Johnson washed up the track in Turn 1 to lose multiple positions.

Johnson would rally to finish fourth, but still ended up just behind Matt Kenseth, who slightly extended his lead over Johnson in the Chase for the Sprint Cup to four points.

Keselowski disposed of Kenseth for second place with 18 laps to go and then began his march toward Kahne. With 11 to go, Keselowski was actually able to take the lead but Kahne got a major run on the inside coming off of Turn 4 and beat Keselowski to the stripe, staying ahead.

But two laps later, Keselowski regained the top spot and pulled away to what would be a one-second win over the Hendrick Motorsports driver.

“I love hard racing and there are a handful of guys you can’t race hard with in this [series] because they freak out – Kasey’s not one of them,” Keselowski told ESPN about his fight with Kahne. “He’s an excellent driver and he ran me hard but he ran me clean, and that’s great racing. I’m proud to race with him.

“He did a hell of a job and deserves a lot of credit for it, but at the end of the day, the Miller Lite Ford Fusion was just fast and we persevered.”

Meanwhile, Kenseth was able to save his points lead despite having handling issues with his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the early stages of the race.

“We were off the first two or three runs and I just couldn’t stand it,” Kenseth said. “We just couldn’t get it to turn. But [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] found some adjustments that the car really liked – it really woke the car up mid-race.

“We were so far behind because I’d qualified so poorly and it took all night to get back [up front], but at the very end, he gave me a shot to win and I’m slightly disappointed that I didn’t take advantage of that opportunity.”

As for Johnson, he was ultimately unable to score what would have been a record-breaking seventh career win at Charlotte despite leading 130 laps.

“The last caution certainly shook things up, and I pushed the 5 [Kahne] off into Turn 1 and evidently, I was too close and was in his wake and the car washed up a little bit,” Johnson said about the final restart that cost him dearly.

“…I just lost track position at that point, which was unfortunate. Once I got rolling again, I was fine but I had lost too much at that point.”

Kyle Busch finished fifth, followed by Kevin Harvick in sixth, pole sitter Jeff Gordon in seventh, Ryan Newman in eighth, Denny Hamlin in ninth, and Carl Edwards in 10th.

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.