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?
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:
- Brad Keselowski
- Jimmie Johnson -3
- Tony Stewart -8
- Denny Hamlin -15
- Kasey Kahne -15
- Clint Bowyer -15
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. -17
- Greg Biffle -19
- Martin Truex Jr. -21
- Kevin Harvick -24
- Matt Kenseth -26
- Jeff Gordon -47
2012 GEICO 400 - Brad Keselowski Wins (via TheCbreton)
NASCAR at Chicagoland Speedway Sprint Cup Post Race: Brad Keselowski (via Greg Engle)
|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