“Is it Miller Time yet?” Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge asked his crew over the radio in the cosing laps of the Geico 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., on Sunday.
It wasn’t Miller Time just yet, but Keselowski pulled away from Jimmie Johnson in the final laps to claim the race win, his fourth of the season, and the championship points lead following the first race of this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“It feels like the first round of a heavyweight title bout,” Keselowski said in victory lane.
Jimmie Johnson finished second after dominating much of the race.
“To come out of here second is a great day,” Johnson said.
Johnson started from the pole and led most of the way until Keselowski took only two tires on a pit stop during a caution that came out for debris around lap 100 of the 267 lap race, while most of the other lead lap cars, including Johnson, took four. Keselowski had taken two while almost everyone else took four during a previous caution.
Keselowski was able to stay out front and continued to lead until Johnson beat him off pit road during a caution that came out on lap 149. With the exception of a green-flag pit cycle with about 40 laps to go, Johnson and Keselowski ran first and second the remainder of the race.
“The last, maybe three runs, he (Keselowski) was definitely a factor,” Johnson said.
At the end of that final cycle, Keselowski was able to get by Johnson soon after getting back on the race track to take the lead for good. Throughout the remainder of the race, Johnson would, at times, gain slightly on the leader, but each time, Keselowski would retaliate by pulling away. By the closing laps, Keselowski had a three-second lead over Johnson.
“I don’t know if the 48 slowed down or we sped up on that last run,” Keselowski said.
With his second-place finish, Johnson claimed the second spot in the championship points standings, three points behind Keselowski.
Kahne finished third to move from the bottom of the Chase points up to fifth.
The top-five was rounded out by two non-Chasers — Kyle Busch in fourth and Ryan Newman in fifth.
The reigning series champion, Tony Stewart finished the race in the sixth spot, and as a result, is third in points, eight behind the leader.
Joey Logano finished seventh, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was eight after starting the race in the back because of an engine change.
A pair of Michael Waltrip Racing drivers, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer, finished ninth and 10th.
The race didn’t go so well for at least three Chase competitors. Matt Kenseth wound up with a 17th-place finish after lengthy pit stops to replace a shock that came out of his car. Denny Hamlin, who headed into the Chase with the points lead, ran out of gas on the final lap to drop from ninth in the running order to 16th at the finish.
“We didn’t get the car full,” Hamlin said after the reace. “They told me I was four laps short, and that put me in a box.”
Jeff Gordon, who ran in the top-five for much of the race, hit the wall hard on lap 188 after his throttle stuck. As a result, he was in the garage at the end of the event.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR
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