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Keselowski inches closer to Chase with Bristol win

August 28, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service, NASCAR.com

Leads wild cards with three victories; Johnson, Kenseth, Edwards clinch berths

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Brad Keselowski's phoenix-like rise from the ashes continued Saturday, with an improbable victory in the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway -- his third win of the season and his second since breaking his left ankle Aug. 3 in a crash during testing at Road Atlanta.

Keselowski grabbed the lead on a restart with 80 laps left in the 500-lap Sprint Cup race and held on to win for the fourth time in his career. The victory all but assured Keselowski of at least a wild-card position in the upcoming Chase.

Martin Truex Jr. ran second, followed by Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray. Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, pole-sitter Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Marcos Ambrose completed the top 10.

"Wow -- the night race at Bristol!" Keselowski exclaimed after exiting his car in Victory Lane, his broken ankle forgotten. "I used to watch Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt win this race. This is a race of champions. I can't believe it. There's races that pay more. There's races that might have a little more prestige, but this is the coolest damn one of them all."

* Victory Lane: Jubilate Keselowski jumps for joy

During the post-race celebration, Keselowski climbed onto the roof of his car, raised his fists into the air and then jumped from the roof to the tiled surface in Victory Lane. That's when he remembered the ankle, but the sudden stab of pain didn't diminish the satisfaction of a victory that belonged to a gritty driver and a team that produced in the pits when the race was on the line.

"A team that just starts to click and believe in each other," Keselowski said in explaining his recent success. "I believed in [crew chief] Paul [Wolfe] since we started this year, and we've just made good adjustments to our cars over the last few months. We made good adjustments to our car during the race [Saturday] and found ourselves in Victory Lane. I can't believe it -- I just can't."

Since Keselowski broke his ankle, he has finished first at Pocono, second at Watkins Glen, third at Michigan and first at Bristol. He will compete with the other three race winners in the past five weeks -- Paul Menard, Ambrose and Kyle Busch -- for a $3 million bonus Sept. 4 at Atlanta under the aegis of the Sprint Summer Showdown.

* Summer Showdown: Field set for Atlanta finale

Should any of those drivers win the race, they'll earn $1 million for themselves, $1 million for charity and $1 million for a fan. As a two-time winner in Showdown qualifying races, Keselowski's will race for two fans, who will split $1 million if he wins.

Keselowski was a fixture in the top five all night long, but he didn't make his winning move until late in the race.

After a caution for Mark Martin's backstretch crash on Lap 361, Gordon, who led a race-high 206 laps, passed Kenseth moments after a restart on Lap 369. Seven laps later, Keselowski passed Kenseth for the second position while Gordon opened a lead of more than one second.

But a caution for debris on Lap 413 allowed all lead-lap cars to pit. Truex and Newman took two tires and restarted first and third, respectively. But Keselowski beat Kenseth and Gordon out of the pits to start alongside Truex. Keselowski got a huge jump on the restart on Lap 421, passed Truex for the lead and pulled away for the victory.

Johnson, Kenseth and Edwards all clinched spots in the Chase. They join Busch, who clinched a spot last week, as four of the 12 drivers who will be in the Cup Series' postseason. Johnson gained a share of the points lead with Busch, who finished 14th.

Clint Bowyer and Stewart had miserable nights, finishing 26th and 28th, respectively. Tenth in the standings, without a victory this season, Stewart leads Keselowski, who gained one spot to 11th place, by 21 points with two races left before the Chase field is set. Menard, David Ragan and Ambrose -- potential beneficiaries of a wild-card spot in the Chase if Keselowski cracks the top 10 -- are 20th, 21st and 22nd in the standings, covered by a four-point spread. A driver must be in the top 20 after 26 races to take advantage of the wild-card rule.

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Brad Keselowski scored his fourth career Cup victory in his 77th race; his previous best Bristol finish was 13th.
• Brad Keselowski climbed from 12th to 11th in points; he has posted top-three finishes in the past four races, including two wins (climbed from 21st to 11th in those four races, gaining 74 points on 10th).
• Brad Keselowski led seven times for 89 laps, including the final 80.
• Penske Racing scored its 70th Cup victory , ninth at Bristol and fourth in 2011 (three by Brad Keselowski, one by Kurt Busch).
• Dodge posted its seventh victory at Bristol and fourth in 2011.
• Martin Truex Jr (second) posted his first top-five finish in his 12th race at Bristol; his previous best was 12th.
• Jeff Gordon (third) scored his first top-five at Bristol since spring 2009 (four races) and best finish since March 2007, the last race on the old surface.
• Jimmie Johnson (fourth) posted his fourth top-five in the past six races at Bristol and 10th top-five in 2011; he has finished in the top five in five of the past seven races.
• Jimmie Johnson has led at least one lap in the past six Bristol races, the longest current streak.
• Jamie McMurray (fifth) posted his third top-five finish at Bristol and third top-10 in the past four races there; it's his second top-five finish in 2011.
• Matt Kenseth (sixth) has posted top-10 finishes in his past five Bristol races.
• Ryan Newman (eighth) scored his sixth top-10 in the past seven Bristol races.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. (16th) has been running at the finish in his past 23 Bristol races, the longest current streak.
• With his lead at Bristol, Kyle Busch has led in 18 of the 24 races this season, most by any driver.
• Kevin Harvick (fifth in points) and Jeff Gordon (sixth) need just four points at Atlanta or Richmond, which is 40th-place points, to clinch a spot in the Chase.
• If Ryan Newman finishes 20th or better at Atlanta he will clinch a Chase spot.
• If Kurt Busch finishes seventh or better at Atlanta he will clinch a Chase spot.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart can clinch Chase spots if they have a 49-point lead over 11th after Atlanta.
• Any driver 97 points behind 10th after Bristol cannot get into the top 10 in points; he needs a win in order to have a chance to make the 2011 Chase.

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