Brad Keselowski wins Geico 400 Chase opener, takes early championship lead

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 16: 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 by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

When I first predicted that Brad Keselowski would win the championship in last week's massive SB Nation Chase preview, I was heavily criticized.

A few of the naysayer's reasoned that he was the only Dodge in the Chase and that he's not backed by Hendrick Motorsports. Lastly, they said he couldn't beat Jimmie Johnson.

The latter is exactly what he did on Sunday afternoon, justifying my pick by winning the GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. While Johnson dominated the race, leading 172 laps, it was Keselowski that charged to the front when it mattered most.

The win is his fourth of the season and catapults him to the top of the standings, three points over Johnson, who held on to finish second.

Chasers dominated the day, taking seven of the top-10 positions with 11 of the 12 Chasers finishing 18th or better. The lone exception was Jeff Gordon who was running fourth when he struck the turn 1 wall on lap 190, the aftereffect of a stuck throttle that may have derailed his Chase hopes before they even began.

His team was unable to complete repairs and Gordon finished what had been a positive race in 35th position. He fell to 47 points behind Keselowski.

Gordon will now need to recapture the magic from his final nine races of the regular season if he expects to return to contention.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Chasers' solid performances have them each within 26 points of Keselowski's early lead - a competitive start to NASCAR's 2012 playoff.

A note on Brad Keselowski's pit exit merger and the complete race results can be found after the jump.

The finish was not without its share of controversy as Jimmie Johnson accused Brad Keselowski of illegally sliding up the track in front of him, on lap 242, after their cycle of green flag pit stops had been concluded.

Johnson had completed his stop a few laps earlier and was at speed on the backstretch when Keselowski was leaving the pit exit path off turn two. Johnson accused Keselowski of returning to the racing surface too soon and impeding the progress of the No. 48.

Johnson was forced off the gas to avoid contact with Keselowski's No. 2 prompting NASCAR to review the incident. NASCAR cleared Keselowski of all wrongdoing and the Penske driver never looked back, winning his first-career Chase race.

While Johnson has a gripe, NASCAR was not going to penalize Keselowski on a borderline call. I've sat in on driver meetings where NASCAR has specified where they want drivers to merge. They instruct, via a prerecorded message, that drivers merge between the exit of turn 2 and the backstretch. Did Keselowski's merger occur much-sooner than most of his exits most of the day?

Absolutely.

Did Keselowski return to the track within the legal window?

Absolutely. No penalty.

As a result, Keselowski's victory stands and we now have an early championship feud in the form of Keselowski and Johnson. The same Keselowski and Johnson who have quibbled all summer over Hendrick's mechanical rear-ends that supposedly provided a competition advantage, according to NASCAR's latest technical directive.

Onwards to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the site of next Sunday's Sylvania 300.

Here's a look at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings after Chicago:

  1. Brad Keselowski
  2. Jimmie Johnson -3
  3. Tony Stewart -8
  4. Denny Hamlin -15
  5. Kasey Kahne -15
  6. Clint Bowyer -15
  7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -17
  8. Greg Biffle -19
  9. Martin Truex Jr. -21
  10. Kevin Harvick -24
  11. Matt Kenseth -26
  12. Jeff Gordon -47

Audiovisual

2012 GEICO 400 - Brad Keselowski Wins (via TheCbreton)


NASCAR at Chicagoland Speedway Sprint Cup Post Race: Brad Keselowski (via Greg Engle)


Race Results

Chicagoland Speedway
12th Annual GEICO 400
UNOFFICIAL Provided by NASCAR Statistics Sunday, 9/16/2012 @ 5:21 PM Eastern UNOFFICIAL
Fin Str Car Driver Team Lap Pts BPts Status TLd LLd
1 13 2 Brad Keselowski Miller Lite Dodge 267 47 4 Running 4 76
2 1 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's/Kobalt Tools Chevrolet 267 44 2 Running 4 172
3 6 5 Kasey Kahne Farmers Insurance Chevrolet 267 41 Running
4 21 18 Kyle Busch Wrigley Toyota 267 40 Running
5 20 39 Ryan Newman GeneHaasFndtnWrkshpsForWarriors Chev 267 39 Running
6 29 14 Tony Stewart Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet 267 39 1 Running 1 3
7 10 20 Joey Logano Dollar General Toyota 267 37 Running
8 4 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. AMP Energy/7-Eleven/National Guard Chevrolet 267 36 Running
9 18 56 Martin Truex Jr. NAPA Auto Parts Toyota 267 35 Running
10 9 15 Clint Bowyer 5-hour Energy Toyota 267 35 1 Running 1 6
11 16 22 Sam Hornish Jr.(i) Shell Pennzoil Dodge 267 0 Running
12 35 29 Kevin Harvick Budweiser Chevrolet 267 32 Running
13 22 16 Greg Biffle Scotch Blue Ford 267 31 Running
14 15 55 Mark Martin LG Partner of the Year/Aaron's Toyota 267 30 Running
15 11 27 Paul Menard Menards/Libman Chevrolet 267 29 Running
16 8 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Ground Toyota 267 29 1 Running 1 1
17 2 43 Aric Almirola Farmland Ford 266 28 1 Running 1 3
18 3 17 Matt Kenseth Best Buy Ford 266 27 1 Running 1 2
19 5 99 Carl Edwards Fastenal Ford 266 25 Running
20 14 21 Trevor Bayne(i) Good Sam/Camping World Ford 266 0 Running
21 12 1 Jamie McMurray McDonald's Chevrolet 266 24 1 Running 1 1
22 37 34 David Ragan Distraction.gov Ford 266 23 1 Running 2 3
23 28 42 Juan Pablo Montoya Target Chevrolet 265 21 Running
24 32 31 Jeff Burton Caterpillar Chevrolet 265 20 Running
25 41 10 Danica Patrick GoDaddy.com Chevrolet 265 0 Running
26 23 47 Bobby Labonte Bubba Burger Toyota 264 18 Running
27 17 9 Marcos Ambrose Stanley Ford 263 17 Running
28 40 38 David Gilliland 1800LoanMart Ford 263 16 Running
29 26 83 Landon Cassill Burger King Toyota 262 15 Running
30 39 32 TJ Bell(i) U.S. Chrome Ford 261 0 Running
31 38 93 Travis Kvapil Burger King/Dr. Pepper Toyota 259 13 Running
32 30 51 Kurt Busch Phoenix Construction Chevrolet 245 12 Running
33 42 36 Dave Blaney Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet 199 11 Engine
34 7 78 Regan Smith Furniture Row Racing/Farm American Chevrolet 197 10 Engine
35 19 24 Jeff Gordon DuPont Chevrolet 190 9 Accident
36 27 13 Casey Mears GEICO Ford 146 8 Accident
37 36 33 Cole Whitt(i) LittleJoesAutos.com Chevrolet 70 0 Fuel Pressure
38 43 26 Josh Wise # MDS Transport Ford 66 6 Vibration
39 31 30 David Stremme Inception Motorsports Toyota 60 5 Transmission
40 33 87 Joe Nemechek AM/FM Energy Wood & Pellet Stoves Toyota 52 0 Vibration
41 25 95 Scott Speed JTS Ford 49 3 Suspension
42 34 19 Mike Bliss(i) Plinker Tactical Toyota 41 0 Brakes
43 24 98 Michael McDowell Phil Parson Racing Ford 38 1 Rear Gear

# = Rookie, Fin = Finish, Str = Start, Pts = Total Points, BPs = Lap Leader Bns Pts, TLd = Times Led, LLd = Laps Led. (i) Ineligible for driver points in this series
Average Speed: 143.363 MPH Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 47 Mins, 37 Secs. Margin of Victory: 3.171 Seconds
Lead Changes: 16 among 9 drivers Cautions: 4 for 23 laps Attendance: 65,000

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