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By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor - Archive - Email
Keselowski peaking at right time
Brad Keselowski Brad Keselowski holds a seven-point lead in the championship standings.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After winning the regular season finale at Richmond and then the opening race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Chicagoland, Brad Keselowski is proving he's the championship favorite.

Keselowski clinched the first seed in the 10-race Chase by scoring his fourth victory of the season on Sept. 6 at Richmond, where he started on the pole and led 383 of 400 laps.

The driver of the No. 2 Ford for Team Penske had a much tougher time winning on Sunday at Chicagoland after he started deep in the field. Since Friday's qualifying session was rained out, he was positioned 25th on the grid based on his practice speed.

Keselowski patiently made his way through the field and went on to lead three times for a total of 62 laps. Following a restart with 19 laps to go, Kevin Harvick and rookie Kyle Larson fought each other for the top spot. But Keselowski, who restarted in fourth, caught up with Harvick and Larson and then squeezed through the middle of them in a three-wide pass for the lead with 16 laps left.

"I just saw a hole, and I went for it," Keselowski said. "The 4 (Harvick) and the 42 (Larson) were racing really hard, doing all the things they needed to do. It just opened a hole. I didn't know if my car would stick or not, but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't try it. I tried it, and that got us into the lead."

Keselowski held off the field after the final restart with six laps remaining and then beat second-place finisher Jeff Gordon to the finish line by 1.8 seconds.

With the win at Chicagoland, Keselowski has secured a spot in the second round of NASCAR's new Chase. He also holds a seven-point lead over Gordon in the championship standings.

"I guess you couldn't ask for a better way to start the Chase other than starting up front," Keselowski said.

The opening round in the Chase, known as the "Challenger Round," includes the races at Chicagoland, New Hampshire (this coming Sunday) and Dover (Sept. 28). If a driver in the 16-member Chase field wins at either one of those tracks, he will automatically advance to the next round, regardless of where he finishes in the other two races.

After Dover, the Chase field will be trimmed to 12 drivers for the "Contender Round," which includes the events at Kansas (Oct. 5), Charlotte (Oct. 11) and Talladega (Oct. 19). The remaining available positions 1-12 that haven't been filled based upon wins (Chicagoland, New Hampshire and Dover) will be decided by points. Each driver will have his points reset to 3,000.

So Keselowski basically has no worries for the next two weeks. He won the July race at New Hampshire.

"I want to enjoy the moment, but I still know there's nine weeks to go," he said. "We have a bit of a hall pass for the next two, which I'm very appreciative."

Keselowski's No. 2 team will have much more flexibility at New Hampshire and Dover than the other 15 teams competing in the Chase.

"The next two weeks, I think maybe we can look at the strategy a little different, maybe roll the dice a little more and go for a win," Paul Wolfe, Keselowski's crew chief, said. "We're going to continue to work hard. We're not going to go on vacation here for the next two weeks. We're going to continue to try to make our race cars better and be prepared really well for Round 2."

Keselowski won his first Sprint Cup Series championship in 2012. He kicked off the Chase that year by winning at Chicagoland and then earned another victory two weeks later at Dover. Keselowski did not qualify for the playoffs last season, as he finished 14th in points.

While Keselowski is assured of advancing into the next round, his Penske teammate, Joey Logano, is in good shape right now to move on as well. Despite his engine overheating during the last handful of laps, Logano crossed the finish line in fourth, as a plume of smoke trailed from his car. He moved up to third in the standings, 10 points behind Keselowski.

"As you look at the new format, the first thing we wanted to do was get a win for one of our cars so we're automatically in the next round," team owner Roger Penske said. "Obviously, that happened (Sunday). With Brad winning and Joey finishing fourth, it gives us momentum."

Team Penske has won eight of the first 27 races this season. Keselowski leads the series with five victories, while Logano has three wins.


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