Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski dominates, but Joey Logano is race leader halfway at Kentucky

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Joey Logano beat Team Penske teammate and race pole-sitter Brad Keselowski off pit road during a caution for debris on Lap 127 and is still at the front of the field at the halfway point of Saturday’s 267-lap Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

It was the second time Logano had beaten his teammate off pit road to assume the lead in the race. But there’s no overlooking the fact that Keselowski dominated most of the first half of the race, leading all but 13 of the first 133 laps.

Keselowski is in pursuit of his second win in the four Sprint Cup races held to date at Kentucky, having won in 2012.

Behind race leader Logano were Keselowski in second, Ryan Newman in third, Kyle Busch in fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth.

Sixth through 10th were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne and AJ Allmendinger.

Keselowski had held on to the lead from the start, pacing the field for the first 79 laps.

Kyle Busch, who hoped to earn his second win of the weekend (he won Thursday’s Camping World Truck Series race), started 18th but worked his way into the top 10 fairly quickly.

By Lap 50, Roush Fenway Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle were running 26th and 27th, making no progress from their original qualifying spots of 23rd and 24th, respectively.

The first caution of the race came on Lap 29 when Denny Hamlin suffered a blown tire that threw his Toyota into the Turn 4 wall and caused extensive damage to his Camry.

As a result, NASCAR chose to make that slowdown in the action to serve as a scheduled competition caution that was due to come on Lap 30 because of rain that had been forecast for the area (but did not come).

“I didn’t expect that at all,” Hamlin told TNT. I just heard it pop. It was very reminiscent of last year. … I wish we could have seen how far we could have went into the night.”

On Lap 77, rookie Kyle Larson suffered a similar fate to Hamlin, bringing out the caution when his car appeared to lose a tire and wrecked coming out of Turn 1, also sustaining significant damage.

“I blew a right front,” Larson said. “We were hoping for a big points day before we go to Daytona, where it’s a real crap shoot.

“Oh well, we’ll go to Daytona and try to rebound and gain some more points. … I guess I just used up my tires too much.”

On the resulting pit stop, as he has several times already this season, Kevin Harvick – who won Friday’s Nationwide Series race – once again was victimized by costly mistakes by his pit crew. He came onto pit road in second position, but a dropped lug nut extended Harvick’s stay in the pits and he exited 16th.

Also under that same caution, Keselowski lost the lead for the first time of the evening when Penske Racing teammate Joey Logano beat Keselowski out off pit road.

Logano led five laps under caution but Keselowski regained the lead spot for nearly a lap before Logano took back the advantage. Keselowski then bounced back on Lap 88 and once again began the same kind of domination he showed in the first 79 laps around the 1.5-mile tri-oval.

The third caution of the night occurred on Lap 127 for debris. Logano once again emerged in the lead, while Keselowski left pit road having dropped from the race lead to fourth.

Also on that stop, Jeff Gordon suffered a rare air gun failure, dropping him from seventh to 24th.

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F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.