Sunday, September 30, 2012

Keselowski Wins No. 5

Brad Keselowski has been on fire all year, but many wondered whether he would be a legitimate championship contender.  After winning the opening race of the Chase, Keselowski solidified himself as the points leader.  After losing it last weekend, Keselowski outsmarted Jimmie Johnson and the rest of the field to win his fifth race of the year, and reclaim the points lead.

Brad Keselowski celebrates his fifth victory of the season (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin won the pole for the AAA 400, and led Clint Bowyer to the green flag.  He was able to clear Bowyer heading into the first turn to take the lead.  On lap 16, Kyle Busch blew by Bowyer for second place.  Hamlin's two-second lead began to shrink after he began to run into some lapped traffic, and on lap 34, Busch passed Hamlin for the lead. 

Kurt Busch hit pit road on lap 61 to begin a round of green-flag pit stops.  Right in the middle of pit stops, JJ Yeley blew a right front tire, bringing out the first caution on lap 69.  The caution trapped everyone a lap down except for the top six cars.  The leaders made their stops under caution, and Kyle Busch got out of the pits first.

JJ Yeley brought out the day's first caution (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
The race restarted on lap 77, and Busch beat Hamlin out of Turn 2 for the lead.  On lap 102, Jimmie Johnson caught Hamlin and they began to fight for second place.  Hamlin was able to stay ahead of Johnson, but they had fallen about a second behind Busch.  On lap 141, Kevin Harvick hit pit road to start another round of green-flag pit stops.  Brad Keselowski hit pit road on lap 151, handing the lead over to Kyle Busch after stops had cycled around.  Keselowski had a costly stop, spending 24 seconds in the pits after his jack broke.  Keselowski joined the field in sixth place, just ahead of leader Kyle Busch.

The caution came out on lap 179 for debris in Turn 3.   The race restarted on lap 185, with Busch leading Hamlin through Turn 1.  On lap 194, Greg Biffle radioed in that he had a front tire issue, and was forced to pit.  On lap 240, Brad Keselowski was able to get under Jeff Gordon for fourth place, and set his sights on Jimmie Johnson.  The day's third caution came out on lap 246 for debris.  The leaders pitted, and Busch got out of the pits in first.

Kyle Busch led 302 of 400 laps (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
The race restarted on lap 253, and Kyle Busch was able to get ahead of Johnson for the lead.  On lap 277, Johnson caught Busch while he was working his way through lapped traffic, but Busch was able to hold him off. 

The caution came out on lap 308, when Matt Kenseth broke a trackbar.  The leaders came in under the caution to pit, and Johnson was able to win the race off pit road.  The race restarted on lap 316, and Johnson pulled ahead of Busch for the lead.  Matt Kenseth spun entering Turn 3, bringing out the fifth caution of the day.

Matt Kenseth spins in Turn 3 (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
The race restarted on lap 322, with Johnson leading Busch into Turn 2.  On lap 350, Kasey Kahne, who had just cracked the top five, had began to complain of a vibration.  He came in to pit, but a mistake on pit road caused Kahne to pit again for a missing lug nut.

On lap 355, Kyle Busch got around Johnson for the lead, and Hamlin was able to get around Johnson for third.  Busch and Hamlin did not have enough fuel to make it to the end of the race, but Johnson was trying to save enough fuel to make it without stopping again.  With 14 laps to go, Brad Keselowski got around Johnson for third.  With 11 to go, Busch pitted for fuel, giving up the lead.  The next lap, Hamlin gave up the lead to pit for fuel, handing the lead to Keselowski. 

Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin, who had topped off under the last caution and were good on fuel, got around Johnson and set their sights on Keselowski.  Keselowski didn't run out of fuel, however, and was able to win the AAA 400. 

Jeff Gordon finished second, and was followed by Mark Martin.  Jimmie Johnson conserved enough fuel and finished fourth.  Carl Edwards had a surprisingly good race, and finished fifth.  Martin Truex Jr. finished sixth.  Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, who pitted for fuel at the end of the race, finished seventh and eighth, respectively.  Clint Bowyer finished ninth, and Joey Logano finished tenth.  Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 11th after an uneventful day, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 12th in a rare Cup appearance.  Kevin Harvick finished 13th.  Kasey Kahne finished 15th, and Greg Biffle finished 16th.  Tony Stewart finished 20th.  Danica Patrick finished 28th, seven laps down.  Matt Kenseth finished 35th after a rough day.

After this race, Brad Keselowski now has the points lead over Jimmie Johnson.  After only three races, it seems as though only the top 3 have a shot to win the championship.  Here are the unofficial points, courtesy of

Brad Keselowski made a statement with his second victory in three weeks.  Keselowski now leads the standings, while Jimmie Johnson is in second place once again.  Next week, the Chase heats up as the Sprint Cup Series heads into Talladega, where anything can happen.  The Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 can be seen at 1 p.m. next Sunday, only on ESPN.

Jerry Markland/Getty Images

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