CONCORD, N.C. – Brad Keselowski snapped a 37-race winless streak Saturday night by chasing down Kasey Kahne in the closing laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The defending Sprint Cup Series champion, who failed to qualify for the Chase this year, grabbed his first win of the season and first since Sept. 30, 2012, at Dover, by passing Kahne with nine laps to go in his Penske Racing Ford.
Keselowski became the first non-Chase driver to win a Chase race since Jamie McMurray at Charlotte in 2010.
“I never give up. I didn’t qualify well. But I kept working my way forward. I knew we had a good car,” said Keselowski, who started 23rd.
The race changed dramatically with 27 laps remaining and Jimmie Johnson seemingly on his way to an easy victory. But a debris caution sent the leaders to pit road and ended Johnson’s march to a record seventh Charlotte win.
Hendrick teammates Kahne and Jeff Gordon took only two tires and raced off pit road first, while everyone else took four tires and lined up behind them. Johnson came out in third, and should have been in good shape on four fresh tires.
Instead, Johnson had a terrible restart and fell back to seventh.
“There was a caution that shook things up,” Johnson shrugged.
Kahne pulled away with the rest of the leaders.
Championship leader Matt Kenseth was in the mix for a moment, but Keselowski, sixth on the restart, got past him and took over second.
Keselowski then set his sights on Kahne once and for all. He had picked his way through traffic but getting past Kahne wasn’t easy — Keselowski needed several attempts before making it stick.
“I love hard racing and there are a handful of guys who can’t race hard and they freak out — he’s not one of them,” Keselowski said about Kahne.
“He’s an excellent driver. He ran me hard but ran me clean and that is great racing.
“He did a hell of a job and deserves a lot of credit for it.”
Kahne finished second in a Chevrolet and was followed by the Toyota of Kenseth, who takes a four-point lead over Johnson into next week’s Chase race at Talladega.
Kyle Larson made his Sprint Cup Series debut driving a Chip Ganassi Racing-prepared car.
Larson was impressive early, driving from 21st inside the top-12, and he lingered there alongside Juan Pablo Montoya, the driver he’ll replace next season for Ganassi.
FORMULA ONE: Red Bull driver Mark Webber claimed pole position for the Japanese Grand Prix, qualifying ahead of his teammate and runaway championship leader Sebastian Vettel for the first time this year.
Webber clocked a time of 1 minute, 30.975 seconds at the Suzuka circuit, with Vettel just under two-tenths of a second behind in second place after struggling with his KERS power-boost system.
“Sebastian had a problem so it’s a bit of a hollow pole but you have to grab the opportunities when you can,” said Webber, who is leaving F1 at the end of the season.
“It’s a very nice farewell for me on my final time here at Suzuka and on a phenomenal circuit.”