Ride along with Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick as Keselowski makes a three-wide pass to set up a win in Chicagoland.
Win puts 2012 champion into Contender Round MORE: Full race results " Updated series standings RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota JOLIET, Ill. -- For Brad Keselowski , this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup started the same way it did in 2012 -- with a victory at Chicagoland Speedway . Clearly, Keselowski would love to see the Chase end the same way it did two years ago -- with a series championship. Needing an extra pit stop to tighten a loose wheel under caution on Lap 183 of 267 in Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400 at the 1.5-mile track, Keselowski restarted 16th on Lap 187, mired in traffic behind a gaggle of lapped cars. But with a determined charge through the field and a couple of opportune cautions in the final 35 laps, Keselowski regained lost track position and put himself in position to make a dramatic race-winning move after a restart on Lap 250. With third-place finisher Kyle Larson battling Kevin Harvick for the lead on Lap 252, Keselowski powered between the two cars off Turn 2 and grabbed the lead. "I just saw a hole, and I went for it," Keselowski said. He held the top spot for a restart on Lap 262, after an accident involving the cars of Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. , and pulled away to win his fifth race of the year and the 15th of his career by 1.759 seconds over Jeff Gordon , who passed Larson for the second spot in the closing laps. Joey Logano ran fourth and Harvick fifth, as Chase drivers took eight of the top 10 finishing positions. With his second victory at Chicagoland, Keselowski ensured he would advance to the next round of the Chase under a new format that features a trio of three-race elimination rounds and a final race at Homestead to settle the championship between the last four eligible drivers. With the starting order set according to speeds in opening Sprint Cup practice because of a qualifying rainout, Keselowski started 25th and worked his way to the front, only to fall back again when he brought the No. 2 Team Penske Ford to pit road to have the loose wheel tightened. "I'm not really sure what to say," said Keselowski , who can race for the next two weeks without fear of falling out of the Chase. "I don't really know what happened. I just know we got to the lead. There was traffic and I was just digging and in the zone. The recorder was turned off, so I don't remember what happened. "I had my head down doing all I could do. We had a great Miller Lite Ford Fusion that I knew from the start would be good, but, man, it was really awesome the last few runs. We really dialed it in and the 2 crew did an excellent job. What a day! Man, I am still pumped!" Larson, driving a backup car after a brush with the outside wall in Saturday morning practice, appeared headed for the first victory of his Cup career, before Carl Edwards ' cut tire brought out the fourth caution on Lap 231. That yellow, which interrupted a cycle of green-flag pit stops, leap-frogged Keselowski to the fourth spot for a restart on Lap 238. Seven laps later, caution for Clint Bowyer ’s contact with the Turn 1 wall set up Keselowski's opportunity to make the winning move. "Man, I was so close," a rueful Larson said of his lost opportunity. "I didn't need that caution there. I was just cruising out front, and then we got that yellow, and I had to battle Harvick really hard then. That allowed Brad to get by both of us. It really ended our shot at a win there. We had one more shot there at the last restart, but just didn't have enough for Brad. "He was really good around the bottom. He was about the only car that I thought could get around the bottom all race long. I had a lot of fun gripping the wall. I ran inches off of it the whole race and finally got into it there battling Jeff. Man, for a back-up car, that was amazing… I just hate it that we came up short." If Larson had speed, Chase drivers Edwards, AJ Allmendinger and Greg Biffle did not. None of the three drivers was quick enough to stay on the lead lap, and with respective finishes of 20th, 22nd and 23rd, all are in jeopardy of elimination after the third race of the Chase at Dover. The real casualty of Sunday’s race, however, was Aric Almirola , who was running sixth just before the engine in his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford failed as he was coming to pit road for a green-flag stop on Lap 231. Almirola finished 41st and is in grave danger of missing the cut two races hence. Up next for the Sprint Cup Series is the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Sunday (2 p.m. ET on ESPN). It is the second of three races in the Challenger Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation
Brad Keselowski battles Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson in the closing laps to win the first race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase at Chicagoland Speedway.
Brad Keselowski talks about making a wild pass to take the lead and hanging on for the win.
Brad Keselowski talks about advancing to the next round of the Chase and the three-wide pass that gave him the lead at Chicagoland Speedway.
Alan Cavanna chats with Brad Keselowski in Victory Lane about his daring move to take the lead and what it means to punch his ticket to the Contender Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
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Four-win regular season sets Penske driver apart RELATED: Play Perfect Chase Grid Challenge for chance at $100,000 prize Last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway , Brad Keselowski 's reign as 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion ended with a sixth-place finish, a shrug and a resolution to do better next time. It also occurred against the backdrop of Jimmie Johnson celebrating his coronation amid a confetti and champagne shower as a six-time champ. Little did people know that the resolve to improve from Keselowski and Team Penske would be so strong. After being on the wrong side of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs last year, Keselowski and co. are steamrolling into the postseason as the No. 1 seed, clinching the top spot with a runaway of a victory Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway . "I couldn't ask for a better way to enter the Chase than to win and take the first seed," Keselowski said. "We're ready. We want to run for another Cup. We really feel like this team has it." Keselowski separated himself from a pack of three-win drivers in the regular-season finale, snaring victory No. 4 in dominating fashion. With the amount of sheer speed his No. 2 Ford has shown at the variety of tracks in the 10-race Chase, a second Sprint Cup title in a three-year span is a realistic possibility. But the Roger Penske-owned operation has produced stellar race cars for both teams that reside at his Mooresville, North Carolina shop. Besides Keselowski's four wins, teammate Joey Logano has claimed three for the group's No. 22 Ford, tying him with the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports trio of Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon and Johnson -- all with three regular-season triumphs. While the stage may seemingly be set for a Hendrick vs. Penske showdown in the postseason, Keselowski isn't discounting Joe Gibbs Racing , Stewart-Haas Racing and Roush Fenway Racing -- all teams that also have multiple drivers in the title-eligible pool, ready to try to find running room and avoid the three eliminations in the new Chase format. "It's an interesting layout for the next 10 races," Keselowski said. "All the teams have different strengths and weaknesses. Over the summer stretch there were certainly some tracks in (the Hendrick) wheelhouse. I think we have a lot of tracks coming up that are in ours over the next few weeks. It's really hard to say. It seems like everybody seems to find another level when it comes time for the Chase. There could be somebody out there sleeping. I think the Gibbs cars have been performing really well, at least at Atlanta and the weeks prior to that. They could certainly be an issue and a threat as well. "Over the summer stretch, I thought we were a little bit behind, but boy, did we nail it right here tonight. That's part of the fun." The summer swoon etched in Keselowski's mind was a seven-race period from late June to early August where the team finished outside the top 10 five times. The other two races, however, were convincing victories at Kentucky and New Hampshire, the latter of which is the second battle in this year's Chase schedule. Saturday night's win, Keselowski's third in 10 races, continued the season-long trend of speed before and during the race that has become the No. 2 crew's trademark. Keselowski has started on the front row a sterling 11 times in 26 races this season, including four Coors Light Pole Awards. But count Penske, the Captain himself, among those not scheduling a fitting for championship rings just yet. "Obviously being the top seed is a tremendous effort for the team and certainly puts us in a great place, but we're not blind," said Penske, who tapped Keselowski for a full-time ride with his team starting in 2010. "We know there's plenty of guys out there that beat us; they're going to want to. What we have to do is stay on course." The path -- at least early on -- is one that Keselowski has already paved with a degree of success in the past. The 30-year-old driver has won at each of the Chase's first three tracks (Chicagoland, New Hampshire, Dover), but he isn't taking advancing from the opening Challenger Round onward as a given. "I don't know. Nobody knows," Keselowski said. "I do know we have different strengths and weaknesses. As to which ones are the strengths you need to have and which ones are the weaknesses you can get away with or vice versa, time will tell." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: NASCAR Chase Grid games WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL CHASE COVERAGE • Chase hub page • Chase Grid games • #MyChaseNation