Joliet, Ill., — Brad Keselowski drove to victory lane in Sunday’s Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway after getting around a dominant Jimmie Johnson, who led the most laps at the mile-and-a-half track. Kasey Kahne finished third to give Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers a sweep of the top three positions.
The top three positions in the standings are separated by only eight points leaving the race wide-open as the series heads to New Hampshire.
Keselowski takes the points lead for the first time in his career after winning the opening Chase race.
“I feel like it’s my goal to be a Sprint Cup champion, to be a winner,” said Keselowski. “Racing is one of the few things I’ve ever done in my life that has been able to take me to another level mentally and physically, and it demands that out of you to be successful. And there’s no guarantee of success in this sport, as there’s no guarantee of success in any sport.”
“I approach the work ethic of it, whether it was from my dad or whatnot, whoever I got it from, that could be argued for some time, but I approached it as though I were a baseball player at the mound or I should say at the plate, and you know there’s a 100 mile-an-hour fast balls coming at you all the time, there’s always somebody trying to beat you, but if I go down, I’m going to go down swinging the bat as hard as I can each and every time,” Keselowski added. “I’m not going to stare at the ball every time it goes by and be struck out.
Jimmie Johnson (-3)
It is no surprise that the five-time Sprint Cup champion is only three points behind the leader after a dominant opening round in Chicago with second place finish. Johnson pulled to a two-second lead over the field on his way to leading the most laps, but Johnson said Keselowski was a “definitely a factor” in the final three runs.
“I was maybe a little better than him on the third-to-last and then on the next-to-last we were about equal, but on that last one, he was just better,” Johnson said. “Its ten long races and a lot can happen so to come out of here in second is a great day and of course we want to be over there in victory lane, that is just a given but we will take this second and we will go on to the next one.”
Tony Stewart (-8)
A sixth place finish was not exactly what Stewart was looking for, but was happy to come out with at top-10 after struggling most of the day.
“We probably passed more cars than anybody today so not exactly what we were looking for, but we were just a little bit off and we will keep working on it,” said Stewart. “But if we can be a little bit off and end up with a top-ten, then we are in good shape.”
Denny Hamlin (-15)
Hamlin ran out of fuel and was not able to hold onto a top-10 finish, and had to settle for a 16th place finish after the team was four laps short after failing to pack the car with enough fuel to make it to the checkered flag. Regardless of the poor finish in the Chase opener, Hamlin and the team are optimistic.
“We’re only 15 (points) back or something like that — we can make that up easily,” said Hamlin. “We’re fast enough to do that, but the bad thing is that I felt like we could have run to third right there — just was having to run so slow to keep from running out of fuel and we still ran out.”
“We’re optimistic about next week — about trying to get a win,” Hamlin added. “You can’t have self-induced problems and this isn’t luck or anything like that. This was just us making a big mistake with our fuel again. It’s tough, but we’re strong enough and fast enough in this Chase that we can make up 15 points easily.”
Kasey Kahne (-15)
Kahne finished third due to another solid run on the track and on pit road. Kahne said the car was good, but the ability to keep pace with Johnson and Keselowski just wasn’t there.
“I was slipping a little more than I would have liked to off the corners, and we weren’t able to get a handle on that,” said Kahne. “I tried to lead a lap there with Jimmie and just wasn’t able to get by him.”
“We battled for about three laps there through the middle part of the race, and ended up third, Kahne added. “I think I ran third most of the race.”
Clint Bowyer (-15)
Bowyer finished 10th, but it wasn’t a good day for the No. 15 team.
“I don’t know whether it was strategy or pit stops or what, but it seemed like we lost spots on pit road all day and it just cost us,” Bowyer said. “You ain’t going to win a championship with decent days — you have to have good days.”
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-17)
Earnhardt said a mistake on his part following qualifying on Saturday forced the engine change that put the No. 88 at the back of the field to take the green flag. Earnhardt felt like the start cost spots.
“We never did gain it all back to where I felt like I had overcome the setback,” said Earnhardt, who took full responsibility for the mistake.
“At the start of the race, especially, we had a really fast car; real good speed,” added Earnhardt, who finished eighth. “We made a couple of adjustments trying to help the car and we just kind of made the car ordinary and much like everyone else. It took a little bit of advantage we had in speed away from the car. We just kind of muffled around and held track position the rest of the day.”
“To win the championship, we’re going to have to turn days like that, those kind of mistakes, around into wins and top threes,” Earnhardt said. “You can’t run eighth every week and win the championship.”
Greg Biffle (-19)
A 13th place finish for Biffle followed a somewhat frustrating day.
“We were really going good there at the end and we did our last stop and the car just went bad,” said Biffle. “It just got way too loose and we were hooking the bottom.”
“I don’t even really know what happened,” Biffle added. “We were driving up through there and the car was getting better and better and it never fails – the last stop of the day we put our tires on and it went bad.”
Martin Truex, Jr. (-21)
Truex and the No. 56 team “missed it” early and were happy to leave Chicago with a ninth place finish. It was not the way they wanted to start the Chase, but consider the run a battle victory.
“At the start of the race the car was just really tight — just plowing,” said Truex, who was worried early. “We worked really hard for that top-10. At the beginning if you would have told me we were going to get a top-10, I would have told you that you were crazy.”
“If that was one of our bad days, we’ll take it,” Truex added.
Kevin Harvick (-24)
Harvick struggled with handling throughout the day and finished 12th.
Matt Kenseth (-26)
Kenseth lost a shock, but was able to make repairs on pit road and finish 18th. The day may have not gone as planned, but Kenseth does not think it will matter when it comes to the next race.
“I don’t think today has anything to do with next week and going on, but we have to do a better job,” Kenseth said. “We didn’t have a very fast car to start with.”
“We had a real good qualifying lap and good track position and thought we could maybe sneak out a top-10 which isn’t nearly good enough but it would still keep you in the game,” added Kenseth. “When we had that problem we got so far behind, thankfully we were able to stay on the lead lap.”
Jeff Gordon (-47)
Jeff Gordon blew a right front tire and slammed into the wall when the throttle stuck on lap 188. Gordon was okay, and was able to return to the track, but a 35th place finish was not the way the No. 24 team wanted to begin the Chase.
“It was something with the return spring where it didn’t come all the way back,” said Gordon, as to why the throttle hung open. “It was a about half-throttle, which is better than full throttle, but it still caused a lot of damage and caused us to hit the wall and end our day.”
“We were having a good day; coming from 19th to be up there in the top five, and I don’t know if we had anything to win the race, but we certainly were giving it everything we had and that’s very disappointing,” Gordon added.