Joliet, Ill., — Brad Keselowski drove around a dominant Jimmie Johnson to win the first race of the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway taking the points lead for the first time in the Penske Racing driver’s career.
Keselowski had been strong all day, but as the laps wound down the No. 2 came to life-and even the driver couldn’t explain it.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Keselowski. “The No. 48 [Johnson] either slowed down or we sped up on the last run I can’t tell which one.”
“For some reason we just took off,” Keselowski added. “It seemed like this race was 20 laps longer than I wanted it to be, but either way it worked out.”
Although a win in the first round of the Chase is a step in the right direction there is still nine weeks to go before a champion is crowned, and Keselowski is well aware of the round yet to come.
“It feels like round one of a heavyweight title bout,” said Keselowski. “It’s good to win it, and it feels great, but there are a lot of rounds left.”
If any driver is familiar with stringing together 10 rounds toward a championship it’s Johnson, who got off to a great start leading the most laps and dominated the field before Keselowski took the lead. As the lead changed there was a question about where Keselowski blended up onto the track from pit road, but NASCAR reviewed the situation and the move to blend was legal.
Johnson said the last three runs of the race Keselowski was a factor.
“That last run he was just better,” said Johnson, who was pleased with a second place finish.
“A great way to start the Chase for us,” Johnson added. “It’s 10 long races and a lot can happen, and we’ll take this second and move on to the next one.”
Kasey Kahne finished third and said the No. 5 was good all day, but “weren’t as good as Brad [Keselowski] there at the end.”
“We had a great car and the pit stops were awesome,” Kahne said. “I felt good about it because we couldn’t get any better.”
Kyle Busch finished fourth, and Ryan Newman finished fifth. Tony Stewart was sixth, Joey Logano was seventh, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., was eighth and Martin Truex, Jr., was ninth. Clint Bowyer rounded out the top-10.
The win propels Keselowski to the top of the Sprint Cup points standings. Johnson is second three points back, and Stewart is third eight points back. Hamlin, Kahne, and Bowyer are in fourth, fifth and sixth all 15 points behind the leader. Earnhardt is 17 behind in seventh, and Greg Biffle is 21 back in eighth. Ninth place is Truex 21 points behind, and Kevin Harvick is 10th 24 points back. Matt Kenseth is 11th (-26) and Jeff Gordon is 12th (-47).
Other news from the Geico 400:
Denny Hamlin was short on fuel as the race came to a close. Hamlin finished 16th after running in the top-10 throughout the day.
“We didn’t get the car full, we decided to make an adjustment and not put all the fuel in it,” said Hamlin. “I was trying to hold my position and trying to slow down and just couldn’t slow down enough. It’s tough to lose that many spots that late.”
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, especially after a dramatic finish one week ago in Richmond to earn a spot in the elite championship playoff.
“We had a throttle stick,” said Gordon. “It didn’t stick wide-open; I just let off the throttle and it just didn’t come all the way back and it’s probably about half-throttle, which is enough to do a lot of damage.”