FONTANA (AP) — Brad Keselowski roared past Kurt Busch on the final lap and held off streaking Kevin Harvick to win at Fontana on Sunday, earning his first NASCAR victory of the season in a wild finish.
Harvick fell just short of a three-race West Coast sweep, but finished second to extend his remarkable streak of top-two Sprint Cup finishes to eight races dating to last season. Richard Petty holds the NASCAR record with 11 straight in 1975.
Keselowski led only one lap in his Team Penske Ford, but capitalized on two late restarts to a green-white-checkered finish.
“I knew (Harvick) and (Busch) had been the class of the weekend and deserved to win on speed,” Keselowski said after his 17th career Sprint Cup victory. “Maybe we kind of stole one today.”
After getting four tires on the first late caution, Keselowski then slipped underneath Busch for the decisive pass, taking full advantage of the California speedway’s wide racing surface. He had never finished better than 18th on this track, which he called the best in NASCAR last week.
“Feel like today is the day we break our (Fontana) curse,” Keselowski tweeted Sunday morning.
Busch, who won the pole, finished third in his second race back from suspension, clipping the wall on his final lap in a desperate attempt to catch up. He hasn’t won since last March at Martinsville, but has two top-five finishes since his return from a three-race ban. Busch’s girlfriend accused him of domestic assault, but he wasn’t charged.
“We just got hung out on the yellows at the end,” Busch said. “That last restart, I just didn’t get the job done. Brad outmuscled us on four tires.”
Busch and Harvick dueled down the stretch in front of a sellout crowd, two teammates eager to capitalize on their superior Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolets. They might have cruised to a 1-2 finish if not for another chapter in the thrilling races that have recently characterized the well-aged asphalt at Fontana.
“I hate that (Busch) wasn’t able to hold on for the win there,” Harvick said. “I would have loved to see those guys get their first win.”
Busch was holding off Harvick until a caution for debris with five laps to go, forcing a green-white-checkered finish. Busch and Harvick took tires and went right up the middle on the restart and got in front of three drivers who didn’t make pit stops.
Busch reclaimed the lead, but Kyle Larson then clipped the wall and sent his entire back bumper flying airborne, forcing another caution.
On the 202nd lap, Keselowski slid down the low side and seized the lead from Busch. Although Greg Biffle crashed behind them, NASCAR let the field keep racing, and Keselowski finished strong.