Keselowski led 11 laps in Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Kasey Kahne led 138. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson led 130.
But Keselowski overcame a loose wheel and a jack that spent a lap under the side of his car to win the fifth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, as a late caution squelched Johnson’s march toward the series lead.
Keselowski, the reigning series champion, won for the first time this season, the first time at Charlotte and the 10th time in his career. On four fresh tires to Kasey Kahne’s two after a restart on Lap 312, Keselowski passed for the top spot on Lap 326 of 334.
Kahne won a drag race against current series leader Matt Kenseth to hold the runner-up position. With his third-place run, Kenseth added one point to his Chase lead over fourth-place finisher Jimmie Johnson and now holds a four-point edge with five races left in the Chase.
Kyle Busch came home fifth, one position ahead of last week’s Kansas winner, Kevin Harvick, as the Chase reached the halfway point.
What started as an all-too-familiar comedy of errors for Keselowski’s No. 2 Penske Racing team ended with a checkered flag after a heated battle against Kahne in the closing laps. During a pit stop under caution on Lap 87, Keselowski left his stall with the jack still under his car, and dragged it 1.5 miles until he returned to pit road, where his team extracted it.
“It was just a never-give-up night,” Keselowski said in Victory Lane. “We had a lot of struggles tonight. We didn’t qualify well (23rd), but we kept working our way forward. I knew we had a good car. I’m not sure we were as good as the 48 (Johnson) or the 5 (Kahne).
“I never got to really race them until the end and (Kahne) had two tires, so I think we were probably pretty even. When (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) made the call to take four tires, and I saw we were that close to the front, I knew we could get them.”
Keselowski, the first non-Chase driver to win a Chase event since Kahne accomplished the feat at Phoenix in November 2011, but that sort of statistic was the farthest thing from team owner Roger Penske’s mind when he saw the incident with the jack.
“I thought, ‘Here we go again,’” Penske said. “…But we had Brad behind the wheel.”
Ultimately, Keselowski’s four fresh tires made the difference, after he got past Kenseth during an intense battle from laps 315 through 317 and then tracked down Kahne.
“I was on two (tires) and he was on four, and he could just move around a little bit better,” Kahne said. “I was trying to move around, but I was just a little bit on the tight side with the front end, then I would get loose if I got the front working.
“I was doing all I could and felt pretty good, but he made some nice moves and just really had some speed there late in the race and was able to get by me.”
Johnson was out front by more than two seconds and poised to take over the series lead when NASCAR called a caution for debris on the backstretch on Lap 307. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet restarted third on four fresh tires but was shuffled back to seventh on Lap 312 and spent the rest of the race working his way back to fourth.
Pole winner Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards completed the top 10, as long green-flag runs left only 13 cars on the lead lap at the finish.