Brad Keselowski led all but 17 laps Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway to win the Federated Auto Parts 400, while Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle earned the final two spots in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Keselowski’s fourth win of 2014 also brought him the No. 1 seed for the Chase, which begins next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. It is also the 400th win in major racing competition for legendary team owner Roger Penske.
“What a night,” Keselowski told ESPN. “I pulled into Victory Lane and I pinched myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. These are nights that as a driver, you live for…I couldn’t ask for a better way to enter the Chase – to come in with a win and take the first seed.
“We’re ready. We want to run for another Cup. We really feel like this [No. 2] team and Team Penske is clicking. [And the] 400th win for Team Penske – this feels so lucky, man, to have such an incredible team and car like we did tonight and be able to execute.”
Meanwhile, Newman earned the No. 15 seed with a steady ninth-place effort and Biffle, despite finishing two laps down, grabbed the No. 16 and final seed with a 19th-place result.
Biffle ended up making the Chase by just seven points over Clint Bowyer. The two-time Richmond winner was strong Saturday but ultimately finished third behind Keselowski and Jeff Gordon in a race he needed to win.
Jamie McMurray, another driver that had to win tonight, finished fourth instead. Kevin Harvick, who led the 17 laps Keselowski didn’t pace, came home fifth.
Pole sitter Keselowski led the race for the first 42 laps until Harvick, after using the high line successfully in the first stint, passed him for the point. A competition caution came out at Lap 50 due to earlier rains at RIR with Harvick leading Keselowski, Gordon, Bowyer, and Kurt Busch.
But in subsequent pit stops, Keselowski and Bowyer jumped Harvick for first and second respectively. Unfortunately for Bowyer, he got a poor restart at Lap 58 and had to settle in fourth, while Harvick moved to second and McMurray moved to third.
Bowyer got back to third around McMurray at Lap 82. A bit farther back, his fellow bubble drivers had mixed fortunes in this stint: Newman moved into the Top 10, while Kyle Larson dropped all the way to 15th at Lap 100 after restarting in sixth. As for Biffle (who entered Richmond holding the final Chase Grid position), he made minimal progress and ran 16th at the quarter-point of the race.
At Lap 120, Harvick again caught Keselowski and used the high line to clear him and start his second appearance at the front. Five laps later, debris on the back stretch brought out the first “true” yellow of the evening.
Another set of stops ensued for the leaders and once again, Keselowski won the race off pit road while Harvick slipped again to third behind Gordon leading into the restart at Lap 132. Also dropping positions in the pits was Bowyer, who fell to fifth after his jack man took a spill during his stop.
Outside of Bowyer taking fourth from McMurray at Lap 169, the Top 5 was pretty much static throughout the stint. Newman remained entrenched in the Top 10, Larson again slipped from that bracket after an early charge, and Biffle was still stuck in the mid-teens.
More stops began shortly after the halfway mark, with the leaders coming in starting around Lap 230. When the cycle ended, Harvick had gone to second and Bowyer to third – but Keselowski remained in P1.
A debris yellow at Lap 262 ended a 131-lap stretch under green conditions, but the Top 5 on the track all retained their spots after pit stops. The Lap 271 restart saw Bowyer pass Harvick for second, but Keselowski again pulled away.
As the race crossed the Lap 300 mark – 100 laps to go – Biffle’s grip on the final Chase spot had become tenuous. Unable to advance, he found himself one lap down in 20th and needing to have Keselowski stay in front of the winless Bowyer.
Biffle got some good news on Lap 319 when Gordon passed Bowyer for second ahead of a Lap 331 caution for – and we’re not kidding – a spectator having climbed up the catch fence in Turn 4.
While the local authorities saw to that situation, the leaders pitted. But as he had all night, Keselowski got another good stop from his No. 2 crew and won the race out to set up for what would be the final restart with 64 laps to go.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at Richmond – Federated Auto Parts 400
1. Brad Keselowski, led 383 laps
2. Jeff Gordon
3. Clint Bowyer
4. Jamie McMurray
5. Kevin Harvick, led 17 laps
6. Joey Logano
7. Kurt Busch
8. Jimmie Johnson
9. Ryan Newman
10. Aric Almirola
11. Kyle Larson
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
13. Brian Vickers
14. Kyle Busch
15. Tony Stewart
16. Danica Patrick
ONE LAP DOWN
17. Kasey Kahne
18. Paul Menard
TWO LAPS DOWN
19. Greg Biffle
20. Austin Dillon
21. Denny Hamlin
FOUR LAPS DOWN
22. Carl Edwards
23. A.J. Allmendinger
24. Reed Sorenson
25. Martin Truex Jr.
26. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
FIVE LAPS DOWN
27. Marcos Ambrose
28. Justin Allgaier
29. David Gilliland
SIX LAPS DOWN
30. Cole Whitt
31. Casey Mears
32. Josh Wise
33. David Ragan
34. Landon Cassill
35. Mike Bliss
EIGHT LAPS DOWN
36. David Stremme
37. Michael Annett
NINE LAPS DOWN
38. Alex Bowman
39. Travis Kvapil
40. Joe Nemechek, Lap 388, Running
41. Matt Kenseth, Lap 330, Running
42. Ryan Truex, Lap 313, Running
43. J.J. Yeley, Lap 31, Brakes