Chicagoland NASCAR: Brad Keselowski wins first round of 2012 Chase

Brad Keselowski jumped into the lead of NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup Series for the first time in his career after beating Jimmie Johnson to victory on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway

Chicagoland NASCAR: Brad Keselowski wins first round of 2012 Chase

Keselowski's fourth victory of the season put a smile back on team boss Roger Penske's face after Will Power lost the IndyCar title on Saturday night at Fontana.

Johnson led most of the distance and alternated the lead with Keselowski in the first half of the race as both ran different tyre strategies. Keselowski jumped back to the front decisively after his last stop, which came a lap later than Johnson's.

The former Nationwide Series champion was quick to block the Hendrick driver after exiting the pits, driving back on the racing line from the apron before he was out of Turn 2.

Johnson's momentum forced him to try to pass on the outside into Turn 3, but Keselowski was able to hold him off before pulling away to claim the winhis first ever in a Chase event.

"It feels like round one of a heavyweight title bout, just it's a 10-round bout," said Keselowski. "Week one is done and we won the round but we didn't by any means knock them out, we've got a lot of racing left to go.

"We're feeling good about today but know that we have a lot of work to do."

Johnson was initially frustrated at Keselowski's quick pit-exit move but he admitted he was not a match for the Penske driver in the final stint.

"He did cut up early," said Johnson. "It did impede my progress, I had to check up and wasn't sure where things were going. But it didn't affect the outcome I don't believe.

"The way he made quick work in traffic and stretched it out on me, I'm not sure I would have held him off. At the time it messed me up, but I don't think it played an outcome in the race."

Kasey Kahne finished third after running strongly all afternoon. He jumped up from 11th to fifth in the Chase standings while showing his intermediate track performance could well make him a strong contender. Four more mile-and-a-half tracks feature in the play-off schedule.

Kyle Busch was best of the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas after former Chase leader Denny Hamlin ran out of fuel on the last lap, losing a top-five finish and dropping to 16th at the line.

He was not the only title contender to start the Chase on the back foot, as Jeff Gordon may well have seen his championship hopes fade after crashing on lap 189 due to a stuck throttle.

Roush Fenway's Matt Kenseth and his team minimised their loses after a broken damper caused the 2003 champion to run well off the pace. However he managed to remain on the lead lap, while a caution period allowed his crew to replace the missing right-front shock on his #17 Ford.

Reigning champion Tony Stewart finished a solid sixth behind Stewart-Haas team-mate Ryan Newman, while Dale Earnhardt Jr was eighth after starting from the rear of the field following an engine change.

Results - 267 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge 2h47m37.000s 2. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 3.171s 3. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 10.585s 4. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota + 13.757s 5. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 17.409s 6. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 18.893s 7. Joey Logano Joe Gibbs Toyota + 20.105s 8. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 21.105s 9. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 21.406s 10. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 22.419s 11. Sam Hornish Jr Penske Dodge + 23.923s 12. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 27.937s 13. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 27.968s 14. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota + 28.835s 15. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 31.581s 16. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap 17. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 1 lap 18. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap 19. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap 20. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford + 1 lap 21. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap 22. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 1 lap 23. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 2 laps 24. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 2 laps 25. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 2 laps 26. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 3 laps 27. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 4 laps 28. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 4 laps 29. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 5 laps 30. TJ Bell FAS Lane Ford + 6 laps 31. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 8 laps 32. Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet + 22 laps Retirements: Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 199 laps Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet 197 laps Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet 190 laps Casey Mears Germain Ford 146 laps Cole Whitt Circle Sport Chevrolet 70 laps Josh Wise Front Row Ford 66 laps David Stremme Inception Toyota 60 laps Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 52 laps Scott Speed Leavine Ford 49 laps Mike Bliss Humphrey Smith Toyota 41 laps Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 38 laps 
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