September 16, 2012
Keselowski strikes first in Sprint Cup Chase
By DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency
Anyone hoping for door-to-door, bumper-to-bumper racing in the first race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, came away from Chicagoland Speedway disappointed after the GEICO 400 on Sunday.
Mindful that it will take 10 races to crown a champion, the 12 drivers in contention mostly minded their Ps and Qs on an afternoon in which there were only four cautions and two of them were caused by debris on the race track.
Brad Keselowski, who came into the Chase as the fourth seed, with three wins this season made it four as he rolled past five time champion Jimmie Johnson in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet after the final pit stop to win in the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge.
Keselowski’s win was his first in the Chase format and came less the 24 hours after team owner Roger Penske lost the IZOD IndyCar Series championship when Will Power crashed at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
For the most part Sunday’s race was a two-car affair with Johnson and Keselowski fighting for the lead after each of the final three restarts.
In the first two Johnson drove away from the No. 2 Dodge and the two of them — for the most part — from the rest of the grid.
That made for a mostly uneventful race.
It was the end result, however, that mattered to Keselowski.
“It doesn’t much matter what happened before in the race, it was the end that counted,” he said. “And there is not better place to start the Chase than in the lead.”
Keselowski warned there was still along way to go before bragging right can be settled.
“This just feels like the first round of a heavyweight championship fight,” he said. “But it is still a 10-round fight. One is done and we might have won that round but we in no way scored a knock out.”
Keselowski did say it was fun racing a five-time champion like Johnson for the win.
“Hey, you are racing a team that has a pretty good record over the past 10 years,” he said.
Johnson said he wasn’t disappointed in his second place finish because he simply got beat in a drag race coming out of pit lane.
“On the last restart he was just better,” he said of Keselowski. “He did an awesome job, but second place is still a pretty good way to start the Chase.
“My philosophy is just to stay in the hunt; there are still nine races left so there is a lot of racing left to go.”
Johnson’s HMS teammate Kasey Kahne finished third in the No. 5 Chevrolet with Kyle Busch Fourth in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and Ryan Newman fifth in the No. 39 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet.
As for the other Chase drivers, Tony Stewart sixth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., eighth, Martin Truex ninth, Clint Bowyer 10th, Kevin Harvick 12th, Greg Biffle 13th, Matt Kenseth 18th and Jeff Gordon 35th.
Denny Hamlin, the top seed with four regular-season wins, ran out of fuel on the final lap and dropped from ninth place to finish to 16th.
If there was one thing that stood out in the race it was the strength of the Hendrick powered Chevrolets throughout the afternoon.
At the finish five of the top eight finishers — Johnson, Kahne, Newman, Stewart and Earnhardt — were using Hendrick cars.
In a classy move NASCAR and IndyCar team owner Roger Penske told USA Today that he is open to the idea of A.J. Allmendinger returning to one of his race teams. Allmendinger was suspended by NASCAR for failing a drug test in July and was a guest of Penske at the IZOD IndyCar Series season finale at Auto Club Speedway on Saturday. Speculation is that Allmendinger could be in the No. 2 IndyCar Chevrolet in place of under-performing Ryan Briscoe next season ... Canadian David Ostella had a career best second place finish at the Indy Lights season finale at Fontana ... Montreal’s Bruno Spengler won his third DTM sports car series race of the season Sunday in the No. 7 Schnitzer BMW. Spengler now trails series leader Gary Paffett by just 11 points with two races left in the season. Toronto’s Robert Wickens finished seventh in the Mucke Mercedes.
Chase of the Sprint Cup Championship standings:
1: Brad Keselowski 2056
2: Jimmie Johnson 2053
3: Tony Stewart 2048
4: Denny Hamlin 2041
5: Kasey Kahne 2041
6: Clint Bowyer 2041
7: Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2039
8: Greg Biffle 2037
9: Martin Truex Jr. 2035
10: Kevin Harvick 2032