Brad Keselowski said he felt like he had just fought the first round in a fight for the heavyweight championship title after winning the opening race in NASCAR’s 2012 “Chase for the Sprint Cup” on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
“It’s a 10-round bout. Week one’s done,” said Keselowski after the GEICO 400. “We might have won the round, but we didn’t by any means knock ‘em out.”
The day appeared to belong to Jimmie Johnson. The five-time NASCAR champion started from the pole and dominated the race, leading for 172 of the race’s 267 laps. But Keselowski would have none of it and passed Johnson for the first time on lap 232. The two jockeyed back and forth , with Johnson closing to within 1.6 seconds of the race leader, but Keselowski held on and finished just over three seconds ahead of his nearest challenger. Kasey Kahne finished the race in third place. Keselowski commented on how he felt the checkered flag couldn’t have waved soon enough for his liking.
“Races get really long when you’re leading,” he said. “Just a long race, but a good race for our team.”
After the first round in the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Keselowski has a three-point lead over Johnson and eight up on Tony Stewart, in third place. Kahne is tied for fourth with Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer, all 15 points behind the leader. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick round out the Top 10, with Matt Kenseth and Jeff Gordon in the final two Chase spots.
Keselowski was quick to say that this weekend’s race is only the first in NASCAR’s playoff format and the road ahead in The Chase is a long one.
“It’s great to get to the points lead, but we’ve got so much racing left and it would be a disservice to today’s accomplishments to allow our focus to get off of tomorrow’s workload,” he said. This is the first time Keselowski has led the Sprint Cup standings in his career. “My thought process has been in what do I need to do to be the best driver over the next nine.”
Round 2 on the Chase for the Sprint Cupschedule is the Sylvania 300, at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sept. 23.