Brad Keselowski lamented what might’ve been after coming just one spot short of his first NASCAR All-Star Race win Sunday night, equating a runner-up finish to the dual-pronged juggernaut of Kyle Larson and Hendrick Motorsports as a moral victory.
Best in class, a consolation prize, whatever the term, Team Penske managed some positives from the first All-Star Race run at Texas Motor Speedway, placing all three of its cars among the top five. Keselowski was the best of the Penske fleet in second, with teammates Joey Logano fourth and Ryan Blaney fifth.
That performance came with some acknowledgement that catch-up work still remains, given the Hendrick outfit’s current grip on the NASCAR Cup Series’ upper rungs. Larson won for the third straight weekend, adding the All-Star prize to points-paying victories at Charlotte and Sonoma. His teammates surrounded the Penske challengers in Sunday night’s scoring rundown, with Chase Elliott third, Alex Bowman sixth and William Byron seventh. In the new All-Star format with 100 laps divided into six rounds, each of the Hendrick drivers won at least one segment.
“It feels like running second to the Hendrick cars right now is an accomplishment,” Keselowski said after falling short in his frantic challenge to Larson and Elliott in the final 10-lap bracket. “They are just stupid fast. I had him off Turn 4 but they just have so much speed. He just motored right back by me, like damn! It feels like a first-in-class day with the Discount Tire Ford. The team did a great job of executing and getting us in position, we just didn’t have enough speed to make the most of it. It was a good execution day, though, and I am proud of that.”
Logano made the most of salvaging fourth after initially telling his No. 22 Ford crew that his car was “miserable.” Adjustments helped bring Logano closer to contending, but he also expressed how he felt out of sorts on tracks with the 550-horsepower package — a figure shaved to roughly 510 for Sunday’s event.
“If we could take the lead, it would be tough to pass me,” Logano said, recalling that his restart prowess helped him move up the leaderboard. “Overall, I don’t know. These 550’s aren’t clicking for me. We got a good finish, yes, but it is a miracle we did it. I don’t know how it happened.”
Blaney also had his moments, taking advantage of an invert draw to lead all of Round 2 — the only non-Hendrick segment win. He also briefly peeked inside of the Larson-Elliott 1-2 punch on the start of the final stage, but was unable to pull clear to regain the lead for the last stretch.
“It was going to be hard to beat the Hendrick guys,” Blaney said. “They were pretty fast. Brad had a good run at them but I thought that was our only shot, that restart, but I just didn’t quite clear ’em.”
All three Penske drivers have tasted victory this season, with Blaney denying a dominant Larson at Atlanta in March, Logano mastering the Bristol dirt a week later, and Keselowski flexing his superspeedway skill in late April. But Hendrick drivers have similarly spread the wealth within their organization, with all four drivers visiting Victory Lane at least once.
Hendrick’s quartet has been more stingy with sharing those laurels, though, winning seven of the Cup Series’ 16 points-paying events. It’s five consecutive wins for the group, Sunday’s All-Star one-off included — a streak that Team Penske and the rest of the Cup garage are aiming to dent.
“Even with this package, you can’t draft those Hendrick cars. They are so fast,” Keselowski said. “We have work to do. I feel like my team really executed the race very well and got us in position, we just didn’t have the raw speed we needed to close it out. I felt like we made some great moves, it just wasn’t enough.”