CONCORD, N.C. (AP) — Driving for an organization known for excellence, Brad Keselowski understands the expectations at Penske Racing.
But when the defending Sprint Cup champion snapped a 37-race losing streak Saturday night, his team owner wasn't sure Keselowski knew exactly what it meant.
"Brad, you don't realize that every driver in our stable now has won a race this year," said Roger Penske, who rattled off AJ Allmendinger, Ryan Blaney, Sam Hornish Jr., Joey Logano and IndyCar drivers Helio Castroneves and Will Power.
"I'd say this is a pretty good night for us."
A pretty good night, indeed.
After failing to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship this year, Keselowski grabbed his first win of the season and first since Sept. 30, 2012, at Dover, by passing Kasey Kahne with nine laps to go at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
In doing so, Keselowski became the rare non-Chase driver to win a Chase race. The last to do so was Kahne in 2011 at Phoenix.
"I never thought we couldn't," Keselowski said. "The perception is, and rightfully so, that the guys in the Chase are the cream of the crop ... and they should win races and probably sweep the Chase. But this is a very good team. We've had what we need to be a championship team. We just haven't put them all together."
The No. 2 team might not have Saturday night if not for a caution with 27 laps remaining that changed the race dramatically as Jimmie Johnson, who led 130 laps, was seemingly on his way to an easy victory. A call for debris sent the leaders to pit road and ended Johnson's march to a record seventh Charlotte win.
"There was a caution that shook things up," Johnson shrugged.
Hendrick teammates Kahne and Jeff Gordon took only two tires and raced off pit road first, while everyone else took four tires and lined up behind them. Johnson came out in third, and should have been in good shape on four fresh tires.
Instead, Johnson had a terrible re-start and fell back to seventh.
Kahne pulled away and championship leader Matt Kenseth jumped from fourth to second. Then Keselowski, sixth on the restart, picked his way through traffic and worked his way past second.
Keselowski was unsure all night if his car was as good as Kahne or Johnson. The four tires he got from crew chief Paul Wolfe gave him a chance to find out.
"I never got to really race them until the end ... when Paul made the call to take four tires and I saw we were that close to the front, I knew we could get them," Keselowski said.
His sights set on Kahne, who led a race-high 138 laps, Keselowski needed several attempts at the pass for the lead before he could make it stick.
"I love hard racing and there are a handful of guys who can't race hard and they freak out — he's not one of them," Keselowski said about Kahne. "He's an excellent driver. He ran me hard but ran me clean and that is great racing. He did a hell of a job and deserves a lot of credit for it."