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Keselowski too strong for Johnson at Chicago

Brad Keselowski established himself as a serious contender for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, taking first blood in the Chase with a win at Chicagoland Speedway.
For much of the GEICO 400 race at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday afternoon, Jimmie Johnson was completely in control. The five-time champion led 172 of the 267-lap, 400-mile race at the 1.5-mile oval - but ended up having to watch as Keselowski blended back onto the track in front of him after their final pit stops. The Penske Racing #2 then proceeded to pull away over the remaining laps of the race to claim the chequered flag and first blood in the 2012 Chase.

"It feels like round one of a heavyweight title bout," said Keselowski, who came away from Chicago with the points lead in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship for the first time in his career as a result of the win. "It's a ten-round bout. Week one's done [but] we've got a lot of racing left to go."

Three hours earlier, as the cars came round to take the green flag for the first time, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was already finding himself going backwards fast. Having qualified in fourth place on the second row of the grid on Saturday afternoon, a mishap following the qualifying session forced the Hendrick team to change out the engine.

"It slipped into third gear," said Earnhardt. "[I] over-revved it just for a split-second and a valve hit a piston in the third cylinder and we can't take any chances," he said, adding: "It didn't destroy anything, but we can't run [that engine] ... The valves and the piston had a little party and they all ended-up with a hangover!"

But even as his team mate Jimmie Johnson led the field away at the start with Earnhardt right at the other end of the line, he wasn't too downcast: "It's a good long race, the car is good enough," he insisted. "Fortunately, this is a racetrack that there are multiple pit strategies, and it's not a really simple straight-forward pit strategy to call. I think there will be a lot of opportunities."

So as the cars got up to speed, everyone settled down to see who was going to use what strategy to win the first race in the 2012 Chase. It was no surprise to see Johnson immediately shoot away at the front, or that his Hendrick team mate Kasey Kahne should also soon dispatch Aric Almirola and pull up into second place, by which time Johnson's lead was nearing the two second mark.

Earnhardt meanwhile was working his way back up through the field and finding some of it tough going, with a notable doorbanging incident with Trevor Bayne into turn 1 on lap 36 that fortunately resulted in no casualties, shortly before the first round of green flag pit stops which was relatively uneventful save for Travis Kvapil snagging his jack as he left his pit stall and dragged it round an entire lap before coming back in again to have the accessory removed.

Johnson and Kahne resumed at the front after the sequence concluded, with Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth just about keeping in touch through to the first caution of the afternoon which was for debris in turn 2 on lap 66, which allowed the leaders to come in for a second time and have some adjustment as a side order to the serving of tyres and fuel. This time the notable double-stopper on pit road was Tony Stewart, who after his initial visit to his pit stall felt a decided vibration suggestion something was wrong with the new tyres, and he preferred to come back in for another changeover rather than risk losing one of the wheels off his wagon under green.

Johnson resumed in the lead although Kasey Kahne gave him an early run for hi money. With Jeff Gordon taking the restart in fifth and Earnhardt now joining his stablemates in the top ten at this point, it was looking like a very satisfactory day at the office for everyone wearing a Hendrick insignia.




Related Pictures

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Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet and Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 Farmland Ford, lead the field at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 16, 2012 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, heads across the star/finish line to take the chequered flag and win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 16, 2012 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, celebrates with his crew in victory lane after he won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 16, 2012 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet SS finished in third place Sunday, September 28, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Johnson advances to the Contender 12 phase of the Chase which begins next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS races to win Sunday, September 28, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Gordon advances to the Contender 12 phase of the Chase which begins next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS celebrates his victory with his daughter, Ella Sofia Sunday, September 28, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Gordon advances to the Contender 12 phase of the Chase which begins next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS celebrates his victory win Sunday, September 28, 2014 in the Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Gordon advances to the Contender 12 phase of the Chase which begins next Sunday at Kansas Speedway.  (Photo by Gregg Ellman/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, races Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, leads Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Matt Sullivan/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Hertz Ford, and Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, lead the field at the start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Dover 200 at Dover International Speedway on September 27, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Wurth Ford, practices for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover sInternational Speedway on September 26, 2014 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Freight Toyota, stands on pit road during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway on September 26, 2014 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo Credit: Photo by Sarah Glenn/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet SS qualified for sixth position Friday, September 26, 2014 for Sunday`s Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. Gordon is in the Chase. Sunday will determine who advances to the next phase of the Chase, the Contender 12.  (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jamie McMurray, driver of the #1 McDonald’s Chevrolet SS qualified for fifth position Friday, September 26, 2014 for Sunday`s Chase Challenger 16 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Dover International Speedway in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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