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Keselowski too strong for Johnson at Chicago

Lap 100 was celebrated with the second debris caution of the day, and Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick stole a march on the others by taking only two tyres in the ensuing pit stops. That put them on the front row for the restart ahead of Johnson and Kahne: and nice the green came out, it was clear that Keselowski at least had the pace to stay right where he was on point He soon opened up a three car length led of just under a second over Johnson, who presumably was taking notes: make sure the #2 doesn't get in front when it comes down to the business end of the race, or it could cost him the win.

Unsurprisingly given the two-tyre strategy that had put him at the front, Keselowski's pace started to fall off as the next round of pit stops appeared and by lap 139 Johnson was close enough to have a look under the Penske car and start sizing up Keselowski for the overtake move. He hadn't managed to make the move stick when the third caution of the day came out, and for once it wasn't debris but an actual incident that was the cause - Casey Mears slapped the wall in turn 1 on lap 149.

"We just blew a right front, I don't know why," explained Mears. "We ran longer than even that right there on the first couple runs. We don't know why it happened but we had a pretty good car."

Johnson was able to beat Keselowski off pit road this time and settled back into the lead once more, with Kahne, Gordon and Ryan Newman taking up the rest of the top five at the green flag. Now it was Keselowski's turn to sit in second place and stare in frustration at another car's back end for a while, and jut as Johnson had found before him there was little he could do at this stage of the race without risking too much, too soon. Having two more Hendrick cars running immediately behind him would hardly have been settling for his nerves.

And then one of the Hendrick cars was gone: Jeff Gordon ploughed straight into the wall at turn 1 on lap 188 to bring out the fourth caution of the afternoon. A stuck throttle was to blame.

"We're still looking into it," said Gordon. "Something with the return spring where it didn't come all the way back. So, it was about half-throttle, which is better than full throttle, but it still caused a lot of damage and caused us to hit the wall and end our day.

"We were having a good day," he added. "Coming from 19th to be up there in the top five, and I don't know if we had anything to win the race, but we certainly were giving it everything we had and that's very disappointing."

It's a disaster for any hopes he had of figuring in the 2012 Chase after scraping in on the final "most wins" wildcard after last weekend's race at Richmond. Being listed with a 35th place finish in the results means that just one race into the ten-race shootout for the Sprint Cup championship he is already 47pts down from the leader - a full race's worth of points.

"In this deal, you can't afford to have issues like that," he ruefully agreed.

The race went back to green on lap 195 with Johnson, Keselowski and Kahne now joined at the front by Joe Gibbs Racing's non-Chase contenders Kyle Busch and Joey Logano for a time. A retirement for Dave Blaney whose car lost power on lap 204 was handled without recourse to yellows, and soon the final round of pit stops for the day were beginning.

Johnson and Kahne both came in on lap 229; Keselowski was able to eke out another lap and came in next time around. And when Keselowski exited pit lane, he pulled up right in front of the #48 - to the fury of Johnson and the Hendrick pit crew, who felt that Keselowski had clearly breached the rules regarding blending back in from the pit exit, and that the move had caused Johnson to check up to avoid a collision.




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)
Erik Jones, driver of the #4 Toyota Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on August 30, 2015 in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Erik Jones, driver of the #4 Toyota Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on August 30, 2015 in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Erik Jones, driver of the #4 Toyota Toyota, races with Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on August 30, 2015 in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Erik Jones, driver of the #4 Toyota Toyota, leads a pack of trucks during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on August 30, 2015 in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Cameron Hayley, driver of the #13 Cabinets by Hayley/The Carolina Nut Co. Toyota, leads a pack of trucks during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on August 30, 2015 in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Cameron Hayley, driver of the #13 Cabinets by Hayley/The Carolina Nut Co. Toyota, races with Erik Jones, driver of the #4 Toyota Toyota, during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on August 30, 2015 in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada. (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Chevrolet, leads a pack of trucks during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on August 30, 2015 in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota, leads a pack of trucks during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on August 30, 2015 in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Alex Tagliani, driver of the #29 Cooper Standard Ford, leads a pack of trucks during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on August 30, 2015 in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo Credit: Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, leads the field in a restart during the NASCAR XFINITY Series Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville at Road America on August 29, 2015 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.  (Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Pro Services Chevrolet, and Clint Bowyer, driver of the #15 5-hour Energy Toyota, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, lead the field past the green flag to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on August 22, 2015 in Bristol, Tennessee.  (Photo Credit: Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS, finishes in ninth place Saturday night, August 22, 2015 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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