Hal Martin is taken out by Brad Teague soon after getting back on the lead lap.
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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
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
Six-time champion knows there are no guarantees in postseason RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota LOUDON, N.H. -- Jimmie Johnson knows the capabilities of his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team. And he knows its current status. The two are not the same. Often the yardstick by which others measure their own progress, Johnson and his team are currently showing more signs of vulnerability than dominance as the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup moves into week No. 2 of 10 here at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . No one's writing the team off, but neither is anyone conceding wins to the six-time Sprint Cup champion. "Truthfully, we're not the dominant car right now," Johnson said Friday at NHMS. "We're a good car. We still have nine weeks to get our act together; especially the way the Chase lays out, if we continue to get the most our of our good car and have a dominant car at Homestead, if we're in that position, then we can get seven (championships). "If" isn't typical for the team, which has normally been in more of a "when" mode by now. With the opening race out of the way (Johnson finished a pedestrian, for him, 12th at Chicagoland Speedway ), he enters this weekend's race eighth in points. Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus haven't lost their way, but it's clear that others have improved. "This is a tough industry," said Johnson, who turned 39 earlier this week. “And we're working as hard as we can and I'm happy to see my teammates with speed. "And then there are a couple of guys out there that aren't in our camp that we're chasing and just trying to out-race them. But they're amazing race teams and drivers as well." Among them -- 2012 champion Brad Keselowski , winner of the last two Sprint Cup races. His Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano , has been no slouch, finishing fourth and sixth. Keselowski won here in July, and Johnson expects the No. 2 team to be no less of a threat this time around. Keselowski went on to finish first in the opening practice, while Johnson finished 29th. "I would expect him to be in a similar position for two reasons," said Johnson. "One, he had so much more pace than the rest of the field here in the spring race that it's hard to believe that everybody could cover that gap and get back to him. And then when we went to Richmond, which wasn't too long ago … and they had that form there, too. So I'd definitely say those guys are tough to handle." By themselves, Johnson's 24 Chase victories alone would rank in the top 10 among active drivers' total wins. And there are tracks ahead where Johnson will be expected to excel. Next week's stop at Dover ? He's won nine times there. Martinsville? Eight victories. Charlotte ? Seven career wins, including this year's Coca-Cola 600 . But he's taking nothing for granted. "It's awesome to have tracks that you love and tracks that you've had success at in the Chase," he said. "I feel like seven or eight of them have been historically awesome tracks for us. That part is great. "Stats are nice to look at, but you've got to live in the present. So just because we've been good at those tracks before doesn't guarantee us anything going back." A winner of three races in a four-race span earlier this season, Johnson hopes the team can rediscover the magic. "We've had one hot spot in the middle of the year … and we've kind of been lukewarm on the other sides," he said. "I'm hoping we heat up. I'm hoping we get to that hot spot again." 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
Chase standings leader wins pole at New Hampshire RELATED: Qualifying results LOUDON, N.H. -- You couldn't script a better beginning to Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for Brad Keselowski , who showed no sign of stopping his relentless run toward a second championship on Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . Fresh from a dramatic victory in last Sunday's first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway , Keselowski blew away the track record in winning the pole for Sunday's Sylvania 300 at the Magic Mile (2 p.m. ET on ESPN). The Coors Light Pole Award was Keselowski's fifth of the season, the eight of his career and his third in 11 starts at the 1.058-mile flat track. In the second and final round of knockout qualifying, Keselowski covered the distance in 27.090 seconds (140.598 mph) to edge Jamie McMurray (140.437 mph) for the top starting spot by .031 seconds. Kevin Harvick qualified third for the second Chase race at 140.065 mph. "The kind of track is kind of right in my wheelhouse, right in our team’s wheelhouse," said Keselowski, who won the July race at New Hampshire in dominating fashion. "We had this race circled before the Chase started, and we felt decent about Chicago, but we really felt like this was a race of emphasis for us to get a win and get out of the first bracket (three-race elimination round). "It's good, right? We just want to keep it going." Despite the excellent performances of the first two weeks, Keselowski isn't ready to claim ownership of the title just yet. "With the resets (after each round), the success of today really means nothing come Homestead (where the four remaining eligible drivers will race for the title, with the highest finisher among the four claiming the prize)," Keselowski said. "It's great. It's positive momentum. It's everything you want to do, and it’s everything you think you should do. "But when it resets, it resets, and nothing that you've done in the past really matters, as long as you're eligible for the bracket. I'm a long, long way from using the word favorite or feeling overly confident." McMurray, who did not make the Chase field, was pleased with his effort in qualifying. "I felt like, in my first run, I didn't get everything out of the car and maybe left a little bit on the table," McMurray said. "The first run I didn't think I got it all, but the second run out (in the final round), the second lap was really good. "Honestly, I came off Turn 4 and tried to run three laps and tried to just drive a little bit harder, but the tires just wouldn’t hold up for another quick lap." Chase drivers who will start in the top 12 on Sunday include Denny Hamlin (fourth), Kyle Busch (fifth), Jimmie Johnson (sixth), Joey Logano (seventh), Carl Edwards (eighth), Ryan Newman (ninth) and Dale Earnhardt Jr . (11th) Keselowski led the first of the two qualifying sessions with a lap at 139.614 mph (27.281 seconds), a scant .005 seconds faster than the No. 99 of fellow Ford driver Edwards. All told, 26 drivers in the 30-minute first round broke the track qualifying record of 138.130 mph (27.574 seconds) set by Kyle Busch on July 11, 2014. Earnhardt Jr. was the 12th and last driver to advance to the second session with a lap at 138.987 mph (27.404 mph). Chase drivers Jeff Gordon (13th), Kurt Busch (15th), Matt Kenseth (16th), Kasey Kahne (17th), Aric Almirola (21st), Greg Biffle (26th) and AJ Allmendinger (27th) failed to advance to the 10-minute final round. Notes: The track qualifying record was the 19th set this year in Sprint Cup Series time trials, in the first year of the knockout format. ... Keselowski has accounted for four of those records. ... The last two times Keselowski has won a pole for a Sprint Cup race (at Kentucky and Richmond), he has also won the race. 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
Memories of 2012 conjured with trip to New Hampshire RELATED: Track your picks in the Perfect Chase Grid Challenge and Chase Battle Grid Presented by Toyota LOUDON, N.H. -- A visit to New Hampshire Motor Speedway two years ago still holds many fond memories for Denny Hamlin . That trip to the Magic Mile was a dominant performance where he guaranteed a victory on Twitter days earlier, slightly backtracked, but ultimately trounced the field with a "called shot" celebration in Victory Lane as the capper. But current events have somewhat clouded that memory. Brad Keselowski ruled at New Hampshire in July. His familiar Deuce rolled to victory in the regular-season finale at Richmond. The hot streak continued with Keselowski's fifth win of the season the following week at Chicagoland Speedway in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff opener. Sure enough, Keselowski's No. 2 was atop the leaderboard again Friday afternoon, leading opening Sprint Cup practice and then winning the Coors Light Pole Award. With all the talk about the hottest driver on the circuit, does 2012 still seem like recent history? "Well, somehow my car's disappeared and it's got a 2 on the side of it now," Hamlin quipped. Jokes aside this time around in New Hampshire, Hamlin seems convinced of one more guarantee -- that the string of 13 different winners at the 1.058-mile track will end with a repeat triumph in Sunday's Sylvania 300 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN). Hamlin just hopes he's the one snapping the streak and not Keselowski. Hoisting the lobster trophy come Sunday would give Hamlin a free pass into the Contender Round, the next three-race elimination phase in the redesigned Chase format. A little rekindling of the magic of 2012 from his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 team wouldn't hurt the cause. "You just show up and your car's just really fast and you can't do anything wrong," Hamlin said of that charmed performance here two years ago. "You're fastest in every practice and you just know what's going to happen. ... It's a good feeling to have a car that fast, and know that you would spend more time messing it up than you would making it better. As a driver, those days don't come around too often and I haven't seen it since." Hamlin opened the postseason with a convincing sixth-place effort last weekend as the top-finishing Toyota team at Chicagoland, potentially setting the tone for what could be a productive path through the Chase Grid. The nine-year veteran reiterated his view that the 10 playoff venues stack up favorably for his team's chances, but he's careful not to get ahead of himself as he searches for his first championship in NASCAR's premier series. "All my better race tracks are in the Chase. They really start getting good for me the last four races of the Chase," Hamlin said. "The key for us is to get eligible with four races to go and get to that final eight spots. If we can do that, then I feel on speed and our record on those second-to-last tracks, we can put ourselves in position to go to Homestead with a shot. That's looking so far ahead -- we have to concentrate on what we can do this weekend." 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
Drivers Jeff Gordon and Denny Hamlin discuss whether or not Brad Keselowski still has the dominate car in Loudon this weekend and who has a chance to beat him.