CONCORD, N.C.– Driving for an organization known for excellence, Brad Keselowski understands the expectations at Penske Racing.
But when the defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion snapped a 37-race losing streak Saturday night, his team owner wasn’t sure Keselowski knew exactly what it meant.
“Brad, you don’t realize that every driver in our stable now has won a race this year,” said Roger Penske, who rattled off AJ Allmendinger, Ryan Blaney, Sam Hornish Jr., Joey Logano and IndyCar drivers Helio Castroneves and Will Power.
“I’d say this is a pretty good night for us.”
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After failing to make the 13-driver, 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup championship this year, Keselowski earned his first victory of the season and first since Sept. 30, 2012, in Delaware, by passing Kasey Kahne of Enumclaw with nine laps to go at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In doing so, Keselowski became the rare non-Chase driver to win a Chase race. The last to do so was Kahne in 2011 in Arizona.
“I never thought we couldn’t,” Keselowski said. “The perception is, and rightfully so, that the guys in the Chase are the cream of the crop … and they should win races and probably sweep the Chase. But this is a very good team.”
A caution with 27 laps remaining changed the Bank of America 500 dramatically as Jimmie Johnson, who led 130 of the 334 laps, was seemingly on his way to victory. A caution for debris sent the leaders to pit road and would end Johnson’s march to a record seventh Charlotte victory.
Hendrick teammates Kahne and Jeff Gordon took only two tires and raced off pit road first, while other contenders took four tires and lined up behind them.
Johnson came out in third but had a terrible restart and fell back to seventh.
Kahne pulled away and Chase points leader Matt Kenseth jumped from fourth to second. Keselowski, sixth on the restart, picked his way through traffic.
Kahne led a race-high 138 laps and settled for second.
“I had a great car,” he said. “It changed a little bit in the center of the race, and that’s when the 48 (Johnson) took the lead and we were second from there. The first 150 laps, it was really good.”
Keselowski needed several attempts at the pass for the lead before he could make it stick.
“I love hard racing and there are a handful of guys who can’t race hard and they freak out — he’s not one of them,” Keselowski said of Kahne. “He’s an excellent driver. He ran me hard but ran me clean and that is great racing.”
Kahne said, “Tonight was a good battle. He had four tires and I had two, and I did all I could, and he just got by me and cleared me.”
Kenseth was third and Johnson got fourth.
Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., finished 16th.
|NASCAR Chase standings|
|Drivers and points after five races in the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr.||2,159|