At the end of a thrilling victory in Saturday night’s Digital Ally 400 at Kansas Speedway, race winner Brad Keselowski’s first thoughts sped to the truck owner who helped further his career.
"I just want to dedicate this win to Mike Mittler," Keselowski said of the man for whom he drove for two NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series races in 2006. "You know, he helped a lot of guys in their career, and I was one of them. He passed away yesterday. It’s just a huge loss to the NASCAR community.
"He was one of those unsung heroes that works in the garage. He gave his whole life to this sport, and there’s so many of those guys and so many of those fans. It hurts to see those guys go away."
Keselowski’s other emotion was joy. In a two-lap overtime shootout, he beat Alex Bowman to the finish line by .205 seconds, as the race went four laps beyond its scheduled 267. The victory was Keselowski’s third of the season-matching Kyle Busch for most in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series-his second at Kansas and the 30th of his career.
With fresher tires, thanks to a pit stop under caution on Lap 241, the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford grabbed the lead from Bowman on Lap 261, building momentum down the backstretch and passing the No. 88 Chevrolet to the outside through Turns 3 and 4.
"What a great day. On the (last) restart, I just got a great launch and Alex Bowman-he’s going to win a race. He did a great job today. We had a little bit of fresher tires than he did (to facilitate the lead change before overtime), and we were able to make the move on the outside there and caught everything perfect.
"I’m just so thankful."
Saturday’s race was the first under the lights with the new higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package NASCAR introduced this year.
"I’m a little biased because I’m parked in Victory Lane, but this was an awesome race today," Keselowski said. "This rules package is really made for tracks like Kansas Speedway, and I think the fans saw a great one today."
The runner-up finish was Bowman’s third straight, following second-place runs at Talladega and Dover.
"Just made some bad calls there through lapped traffic and got tied off, had to lift, and then the 2 (Keselowski) was able to drive around us," Bowman said. "Wish we were standing here with three wins in a row, and things could have gone differently, and that could be the case, but we’ll keep digging next week and try to go get in the All-Star (Race), go win the All-Star and then go try to win the (Coca-Cola) 600."
Erik Jones ran third, followed by Stage 2 winner Chase Elliott and Clint Bowyer. Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson, Tyler Reddick and Chris Buescher completed the top 10.
Pole winner Kevin Harvick led a race-high 105 laps and won the first stage, but Harvick brought the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to pit road on Lap 180 with what he thought was a flat right front tire. The unscheduled stop cost Harvick a lap, which he didn’t recover until Lap 244 as the highest-scored lapped car under caution for debris in Turn 2.
Harvick finished 13th behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Aric Almirola.
Kyle Busch was battling with the front-runners after a Lap 245, but contact with Bowyer’s Ford cut a tire on Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, forcing him to pit road and ending his record-tying streak of top-10 finishes to start the season at 11. Busch came home 30th, three laps down.
— NASCAR Wire Service —