“Just a never give up night,” Keselowski said. “A lot of struggles tonight.”
Keselowski started the race from the 23rd spot and had to make an extra pit stop during an early-race caution when he pulled out of his pit stall with the jack still under his car and made a lap around the track while dragging the jack.
Keselowski led only 11 laps of the 334-lap event that was dominated by Hendrick Motorsports and took the lead for good after passing Kahne with nine laps remaining.
“I was on two tires, and he was on four,” Kahne said. “Wish we could’ve won but second isn’t too bad.”
The fourth and final caution of the race came out with 27 laps to go. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kahne and Jeff Gordon took only two tires to restart first and second, while everyone else took four. Jimmie Johnson and Kenseth restarted in the second row, and the Kyle Busch restarted fifth. Once the race restarted, Keselowski quickly got by all but Kahne to take second. He and Kahne then raced side-by-side for several laps before Keselowski was finally able to take the lead.
“When (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) made the call to take four tires, and I saw how close we were to the front, I knew we could get them,” Keselowski said.
Kasey Kahne finished second, and current series championship points leader Matt Kenseth finished third.
All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers — Kahne, Gordon, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran in the top-five for most of the first 200 laps of the race, with only a select few non Hendrick drivers running up front throughout the race. Truex ran in the top-five early but eventually drifted back and wound up outside the top-10. Later, Busch and Kesneth made their ways into the top-five. Busch and Kenseth made their ways toward the front after a cycle of green-flag pit stops just after lap 125. Busch recovered from a miscue during the lap 25 caution when he left pit road with lug nuts loose on his right-front wheel, necessitating an additional stop. Meanwhile, Kenseth was making his way toward the front from his 20th-place starting spot.
“We were off the first two or three runs,” Kenseth said. “We just started way behind, because I qualified so poorly.”
It was about that same time that Gordon and Earnhardt began drifting back. Earnhardt eventually fell off the lead lap and wound up finishing 15th. Gordon was able to remain in the top-10 to finish seventh.
Gordon started on the pole and led the way until the first caution of the race on lap 25 when both Kahnen and Johnson took two tires to restart in the top-two spots. Earnhardt also led laps early, taking the lead on lap 31 and running up front until he got behind Kahne 13 laps later in an attempt to clean trash off of his grill. After that, Kahne and Johnson took over command of the lead position. Kahne led a race-high 138 laps, while Johnson led 130. Until Keselowski took the lead late in the race, the only laps not led by a Hendrick Motorsports entry were a few here and there during green-flag cycles of pit stops.
“I actually had a great car all night,” Kahne said.
Johnson joined Kahne inside the top-five of the finishing order by finishing fourth, while Busch rounded out the top-five. Kevin Harvick was sixth, Ryan Newman eighth, Denny Hamlin ninth and Carl Edwards rounded out the top-10.
With Johnson and Kenseth both leading laps (Kenseth led one lap by staying out an extra lap during a green-flag pit cycle) and Kenseth finishing one position ahead of Johnson, Kenseth increased his points lead from three to four as the Chase for the Sprint Cup hit the halfway point.
“Glad we’re still in the lead,” Kenseth said. “There’s still a lot of racing still left to do.”
– photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR