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NASCAR Las Vegas 2016 recap: Brad Keselowski rises to the occasion, snaps winless streak

Putting a trying 2015 season behind him, Brad Keselowski was back in Victory Lane on Sunday.

Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Kyle Busch may have gained a sizable lead due to a better restart and the advantages of clean air, but Brad Keselowski had the faster car and began reeling Busch in with just a handful of laps remaining Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

That situation is one Keselowski relishes. Circumstances had come together that he was in position to win or lose, and how the outcome played out would be dictated by his actions over the closing moments.

Eventually Keselowski would catch and pass Busch with six laps left and go on to win the Kobalt 400. The win was Keselowski's 18th career victory, first of 2016 and virtually assures him a spot in NASCAR's playoffs.

"It's a feeling I live for, a feeling I dream about quite often -- being the fastest guy and having opportunity," Keselowski said post-race. "We had the opportunity to win the race.

"One of the best feelings in the world, I can tell you that."

"It's a feeling I live for, a feeling I dream about quite often."

Lately, though, Keselowski hadn't come through in the clutch. Las Vegas represented his first victory in 34 races, a winless streak that nearly stretched an entire calendar year.

Last season, Keselowski won just once while recording five runner-ups. Four times he had led more 100 laps in a race, seemingly well positioned to accomplish what he did on Sunday. But he got bested by Carl Edwards at Darlington, bungled a restart and was penalized at New Hampshire, got swept into a wreck at Martinsville, and couldn't fend off Jimmie Johnson at Texas.

The near-misses stung. The frustration mounted. Disappointment accentuated seeing teammate Joey Logano capture a series-best six races -- including three straight in Round 2 of the playoffs. Keselowski was described as "ornery" by spotter Joey Meier.

"There were a lot of pieces in play," Keselowski said. "There was a lot of misfortune and there was a lot of self-inflicted things I could have done better and beyond."

Yet, throughout the trials and tribulations, Keselowski's confidence never wavered. He recognized the high level his No. 2 team was attaining regularly. That they had won the championship along with five races in 2012, six races two years later and the fourth-most overall since 2011. Eventually the performance would manifest into victories.

"Brad's a confident guy, I don't know if you guys met him before," Logano joked after finishing second to his teammate on Sunday. "It's hard for him to lose confidence.

"I don't think it really took a toll on him. He was up there racing with us the whole time. ... Last year wasn't because they didn't have fast cars or weren't working well together. They were doing everything right. It's just circumstances have to go perfectly a lot of times to win these things."

Still, drivers are judged on winning and in that category Keselowski had fallen short over the past 33 races. But on Sunday, he produced, even overcoming a pit road speeding penalty that dropped him well down the running order.

And that Keselowski and Logano finished 1-2 on a track possessing characteristics to many of those on the schedule -- fast, smooth, aerodynamic sensitive and similarly sized -- bodes well going forward.

More victories should presumably follow. Extensive periods without winning will cease, allowing Keselowski to enjoy more moments like the one he experienced at Las Vegas.

"It's my goal to make that three out of the last five years where we won the most races," Keselowski said. "In any professional sport, a stat like that is a pretty good one. I'm going to try to focus on that one."