Keselowski surges between Harvick, Larson to win Chase opener at Chicagoland


JOLIET, Ill. – Brad Keselowski isn’t a tailor, but he showed Sunday that he sure knows how to thread a needle.

While Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick were jousting for the lead, Keselowski slipped up in-between them and then sailed right through with 15 laps left to win Sunday’s 400, the opening race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Chicagoland Speedway.

“Kevin and Kyle were having a real battle and I was just waiting for an opportunity to strike and it happened,” Keselowski said. “When I made that pass, the fans were all on their feet.”

The move even surprised Keselowski, who started the race from the 25th position and quickly moved up to the front-running pack. When he was asked how he did it, Keselowski was as mystified as anyone else.

“I’m not really sure,” Keselowski said. “We had a great car. It was fast and these Fords have come together for a strong Chase run. It was a crazy day, I’m not sure if I really know what happened.

“I don’t know how it happened, but I’m glad I’m here.”

More: How the 16 drivers fared in Sunday’s Chase opener

It was Keselowski’s second win at Chicagoland to start the Chase in the last three seasons. His victory in the 2012 Chase opener paved the way to eventually winning the championship nine races later.

It also was Keselowski’s 15th career Sprint Cup win and his series-leading fifth win of the season (ties for career best, also set in 2012) and keeps him at the top of the Chase standings with nine races remaining.

Chase for the Sprint Cup standings after Race 1 of 10:

1 Brad Keselowski
2 Jeff Gordon -7 points
3 Joey Logano -10
4 Kevin Harvick -12
5 Dale Earnhardt Jr. -17
6 Denny Hamlin -18
7 Kyle Busch -18
8 Jimmie Johnson -18
9 Kurt Busch -20
10 Matt Kenseth -25
11 Kasey Kahne -25
12 Carl Edwards -29
13 Ryan Newman -30
14 AJ Allmendinger -34
15 Greg Biffle -38
16 Aric Almirola -52

Keselowski holds a thin seven-points lead in the Chase standings over Jeff Gordon, who finished second. Gordon had a great but clean battle with rookie Kyle Larson, who was hoping for his first Sprint Cup win but was forced to settle for a third-place finish.

“I was having a pretty good time watching Kyle and Kevin go at it in front of me,” Gordon said. “I thought for sure there was really going to be a wreck. I’m so proud of Kyle Larson.

“That’s a great way to get started, especially with restarts, to come out on second. I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

As for Larson, he once again came so close, yet couldn’t quite hold on for his coveted first career Sprint Cup win. He took a bit of consolation when Gordon came over and congratulated him for a strong race.

“He just was giving me some advice and he was pretty proud of me,” Larson told ESPN. “Man, I was so close. I didn’t need that caution there. I was just cruising up front there. … We just didn’t have enough for Brad.”

Keselowski’s Penske Racing teammate, Joey Logano, started 28th but finished fourth.

“Overall, just a tough day for our team, but we were able to fight up from where we started,” Logano said.

Harvick dropped back to finish fifth.

“It was a fun day,” Harvick said. “I’m proud of all my guys and it’s still a good start to the Chase.”

Denny Hamlin finished sixth, followed by Kyle and Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-10.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski