Keselowski takes Chase opener, points lead

Associated Press Modified: September 17, 2012 at 2:46 am •  Published: September 17, 2012

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — For over two months now, Brad Keselowski has been racing as well as anybody on the Sprint Cup circuit.

After his impressive victory in the opener of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, it's becoming harder to overlook the confident 28-year-old.

"I feel like it's my goal to be a Sprint Cup champion, to be a winner," Keselowski said. "Racing is one of the few things I've ever done in my life that has been able to take me to another level mentally and physically, and it demands that out of you to be successful."

Keselowski finished comfortably ahead of Jimmie Johnson on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, winning a Chase race for the first time in his career. He also took over the lead in the points standings for the first time.

Afterward, he was quick to remind reporters there are still nine races to go, but this has been quite a run for Keselowski. Beginning with a victory in Kentucky on June 30, he's finished in the top 10 in 10 of 11 races.

"If I go down, I'm going to go down swinging the bat as hard as I can each and every time," he said. "I'm not going to stare at the ball every time it goes by and be struck out."

Keselowski and his No. 2 Dodge got ahead of Johnson after a crucial pit cycle with about 35 laps remaining and led the final 26 laps in the 400-mile race. Johnson finished 3.171 seconds behind, and he said he thought Keselowski crossed a restraining line too early when exiting after that pit stop near the end.

The incident was reviewed and there was no infraction called, and Johnson never made much of a run at catching Keselowski during the final laps.

"He did cut up early. It did impede my progress," Johnson said. "But it didn't affect the outcome, I don't believe. The way he made quick work in traffic and stretched it out on me, I'm not sure I would have held him off. At the time it messed me up, but I don't think it played an outcome in the race."

It was Keselowski's fourth victory of the season. The Michigan driver leads Johnson by three points — and gave Penske Racing a reason to feel good after Will Power's failed bid for the IndyCar championship Saturday night in California.

"It's a great day for us," owner Roger Penske said. "It cools me down a little bit after being hot last night."

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