Keselowski Kicks Off Chase With Win In Joliet
Brad Keselowski passed then – leader Jimmie Johnson during the final series of pit stops and went on to win the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday.
The Penske Racing driver will head to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the second playoff race with the points lead – three in front of Johnson.
“It feels like Round 1 of a heavyweight title bout,” said Keselowski, who took the series points lead for the first time in his career. “It’s a 10-round bout. Week one’s done. We might have won the round, but we didn’t by any means knock ’em out.
“We’ve got a lot of racing left to go. We’re feeling good about today, but (we) know that we have a lot of work to do.”
The final, race-deciding stops began with just under 40 laps to go. Johnson had a lead of just over a second when he headed in for fuel and tires. Keselowski pitted a lap later and when he came out, he did so just in front of Johnson, who led the most laps in the race.
Once in the lead, Keselowski pulled away from Johnson – who finished second – and won by just over three seconds.
Johnson shrugged off the result.
“Yeah,” the five-time champion who said, “just really proud of the team on all fronts. Overcame some adversity through our practice sessions, sat on pole, led a lot of laps today, fell some on pit road, race strategy, you name it, we had a very, very solid day. Of course we would have loved to have won the race, but we’ll take second and go on. This is a fantastic way to start the Chase.”
Third was Kasey Kahne, Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate.
Non-Chasers Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing and Ryan Newman of Stewart-Haas Racing were fourth and fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 were Tony Stewart, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer.
Emerging from the race with the most championship damage was Jeff Gordon. Gordon, whose dramatic finish in Richmond a week ago got him into the playoff, found the wall at Chicagoland when his throttle stuck. He finished 35th.
Matt Kenseth’s title hopes also took a shot when he lost a shock absorber and had to pit repeatedly to get a new one installed.
“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. When we had that problem we got so far behind, thankfully we were able to stay on the lead lap. I was in the back and couldn’t go anywhere. My car just wasn’t fast enough.”
During the race, NASCAR looked at videotape of Keselowski’s return to the track in front of Johnson and decided no action was warranted.
At first perturbed by what he considered Keselowski’s early entry into the racing groove, Johnson said after the race that the outcome didn’t hinge on that particular situation.
“He did cut up early,” Johnson said. “It did impede my progress. I had to check up and wasn’t sure where things were going. But it didn’t affect the outcome, I don’t believe.
“The way he made quick work of traffic and stretched it out on me, I’m not sure I would have held him off. At the time, it messed me up, but I don’t think it played (a part in the) outcome in the race.”
Keselowski thought he was well within the spirit and letter of the law in re-entering off Turn 2.
“There is no enforced line like you see in other sports, and that’s not a bad thing,” Keselowski said. “That’s just one more thing to monitor during the race. But it’s certainly a, I don’t want to say a gentlemen’s agreement, it’s a policy of merging down the backstretch, off of Turn 2, I think it said specifically in the driver’s meeting, and I feel like that’s what we did.
“You can make rules that count it down to the inches and just make it a pain in the [neck] for everybody that participates in the sport, or you can just have a rule like we do, and I felt like I was inside those guidelines.”No Comment