Hendrick dominates, Keselowski wins at Charlotte

Photo Credit: Mike Mercurio/On Pit Road

After a dominating performance by the Hendrick Motorsports drivers, who led 313 out of the 343 of the Bank of America 500, Brad Keselowski found some magic and fought his way past Kasey Kahne who led a race high 138 laps. The win snapped a winless streak for Keselowski dating back to September of 2012. It also marked the first time a non-chase driver has won a race in the chase since Kasey Kahne at Phoenix in 2011.

The Bank of America 500 started with pole sitter Jeff Gordon leading the first 26 laps until first yellow was brought out by JJ Yeley hitting the wall in turn one sending the leaders to pit road. Jeff Gordon, going with a four tire stop, lost multiple positions as most everyone else took only two.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to grab the lead on the restart when Jimmie Johnson struggled to get going. Even more impressive – he grabbed the lead from the high line which Kyle Larson proved to everyone could be done on Friday night.

While in the lead, Earnhardt suffered from a piece of debris on his grill. He let teammate Kasey Kahne by in hopes to let the air remove the debris. When that failed he had to make a second attempt with teammate, Jimmie Johnson by. The second attempt worked just in time as crew chief Steve Letarte was calling for him to pit.

The second yellow flew on lap 83 when Mark Martin’s day came to an end when his engine blew on the front stretch, leaving a trail of oil and smoke in its path. Martin finished 42nd in his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops Chevy. It was during this round of pitstops that eventual race winner, Brad Keselowski, had trouble on pit lane and looked as if his bad luck streak would continue. He left pit lane with his jack and took it for a ride around the 1.5 mile track. Part of the jack eventually fell off leaving the other half under his car. He made the mandatory trip back down pit lane, removed the leftover parts, repaired some slight damage and started from the rear of the field.

The race restarted on lap 91, Kahne leading the way. The lead swapped a few times through green flag stops, but Kahne found his way back to the front for another 40 lap stint until the third yellow of the night fell for debris in turn three.

Jimmie Johnson took the lead on the restart and did not look back on this longest green flag run of the night. During this time, Earnhardt’s car, after leading 19 laps, made a turn for the worse, eliminating him from a chance at winning the race and relegating him to a 15th place finish, one lap down. Not the birthday present he wanted for himself. It also prevented him from being only the third driver who would win their 500th career start.

“The car just got really, really tight. Something in the setup moved. The car was real quick at the start of the race and I was real happy with the speed.” Earnhardt said of his car. “I still thought we had a top-5 car. I don’t know what happened … it just wouldn’t turn the last part of the race.”

Jimmie Johnson lost the race lead, and a potential points lead after a late caution for debris left. “Wish we finished better, but a strong performance.” Johnson commented after the race. Johnson would finish fourth after leading 130 laps and lost one point to Matt Kenseth in the points battle.

The final green flag run saw a fantastic battle between Kahne and the eventual winner, Keselowski. The two swapped the lead and came very close to contact, but Keselowski, who had ran in 10th to 15th most of the night, had four tires to Kahne’s two and eventually secured the top spot

Kahne finished second, Matt Kenseth, finished third saying he was happy he finished “ahead of the 48.”

“I love hard racing. Some guys freak out, but Kasey is not one of them. I’m proud to race with him. At the end of the day, the Miller Lite Ford was fast.” Keselowski said in victory lane after a red, white, and blue celebration.

Rounding out the top ten were:

5. Kyle Busch

6. Kevin Harvick

7. Jeff Gordon

8. Ryan Newman

9. Denny Hamlin

10. Carl Edwards

Kyle Larson made his Sprint Cup debut at Charlotte and was running competitively in the top 20 in the No. 51 Target Chevrolet, when a blown engine relegated him to a 37th place finish.

Brian Scott also made his debut this weekend finishing 27th in his Shore Lodge Chevrolet.

Next week, the Sprint Cup series travels to Talladega Alabama for the Camping World RV Sales 500. The race will be live on ESPN, Sunday, October 20th, 2013 at 1:00 pm Eastern.