Reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski captured his first win of the 2013 NASCAR season last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
A spirited and determined Keselowski out-dueled Chase contenders Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and finally ran down and passed race leader Kasey Kahne to claim victory in the Bank of America 500. Johnson had dominated most of the race, and led more laps than any other driver. The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion appeared to be cruising to victory in his #48 Lowe’s Chevy. With Chase points leader Matt Kenseth mired several positions behind Johnson, a win by the Hendrick Racing driver would put Johnson into the points lead and enhance his chances to win a sixth Sprint Cup title at the halfway point of the 10-race Chase. However, a late race debris caution with only 27 laps remaining dramatically changed the outcome of the race, and Johnson’s victory hopes.
Ironically, Johnson’s Hendrick Racing teammates Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon ultimately proved to be his undoing. Kahne and Gordon gambled taking only two tires when all the race leaders pitted for a final splash of fuel and four tires. Kahne and Gordon emerged at the front of the pack for the restart with Johnson directly behind teammate Gordon. As the critical green flag waved Johnson tried to push Gordon to the lead. But, Johnson slid up the track as Keselowski and Kenseth drove by Johnson’s once dominant machine.
Johnson’s slip put him back in seventh place and out of contention for victory as the leaders pulled away. Keselowski, taking advantage of Johnson’s slide and his four new tires, quickly ran down second- place Gordon. With Kahne out front by about ten car lengths, Keselowski pushed his No. 2 Penske Ford Fusion to catch Kahne with less than 10 laps remaining. The determined Keselowski quickly closed in on Kahne’s No. 5 Hendrick Racing machine.
With nine laps left, Keselowski took the lead by driving inside Kahne coming off turn four, but Kahne drove back past Keselowski and retook the lead down the main straightaway. Keselowski fell in behind Kahne, but undeterred, he drove high and re-passed Kahne on the next lap. With Keselowski’s four tires gripping the track better than Kahne’s two-tire gamble, Keselowski gradually pulled away leading the final eight laps to capture his first win of 2013.
Kahne barely held off Chase points leader Kenseth for second place, with Johnson and Kyle Busch rounding out the top five finishers.
An elated and relieved Keselowski commented on his first win of 2013.
“It was a never give-up night!” he exclaimed. “We had a lot of struggles tonight. We didn’t qualify well (23rd place), but we kept working our way forward. I knew we had a good car...When (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) made the call to take four tires...I knew we could get them!”
Kenseth has a four-point Chase lead over Johnson as the NASCAR drivers return to the fast and unpredictable Talladega SuperSpeedway for next weekend’s Camping World RV Sales 500.