Late run powers Keselowski to win at Charlotte

Brad Keselowski celebrates winning the Bank of America 500.

Brad Keselowski celebrates winning the Bank of America 500.

CONCORD, N.C. — Brad Keselowski will not win a second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup championship, but he showed Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway that he plans to play a role in who ends up with the 2013 title.

Keselowski stole the spotlight with a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the Bank of America 500 that left Jimmie Johnson shaking his head in disbelief at what transpired in the final 28 laps.

Johnson had taken control of the race after the third caution flag on lap 178 of the 334-lap event and was looking to take over the series point lead with a win. He led all but one of the next 129 laps, but the complexion of the race changed when the fourth caution flag of the night was waved on lap 306 for debris on the backstretch.

Kasey Kahne, who had led 121 of the first 177 laps, and Jeff Gordon changed only two tires and came out of the pits running 1-2. Johnson and the rest of the top 10 changed four tires.

Johnson was third, followed by Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Keselowski on the restart with 23 laps to go. But as Kahne and Gordon battled for the lead as the green flag waved, Johnson got loose and dropped to seventh.

Keselowski passed Kenseth for second with 19 laps to go, and he and Kahne swapped the top spot with 11 laps to go. But two laps later, Keselowski got by Kahne again and this time pulled away for the win — his first of the season.

Keselowski struggled during the first 26 races of the season without a win and did not qualify for this year’s Chase for the Championship.

“It was just a never-give-up night,” Keselowski said. “We didn’t qualify well, 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 5 (Kahne). When Paul (Wolfe, crew chief) made the call to take four tires and I saw we were that close to the front, I knew we could get them.

“This just shows how good this Miller Lite team is even though we are not in the Chase.”

Kahne finished second, followed by Kenseth, Johnson and Kyle Busch

Johnson said on the final restart that he “got down in Turn 1 and 2 and just got in the dirty air as I pushed the 5 (Kahne). He didn’t get the best restart and something to do with that combo got me off the bottom and a couple of cars got into the side of me.”

The sixth- through 10th-place finishers were Kevin Harvick, Gordon, Ryan Newman, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.

Kenseth added one point to his series lead as he heads into the final five races of the season with a slim four-point margin over Johnson.

“We were off at the start of the race,” Kenseth said. “On about the fourth run, Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) found some adjustments that really woke it up for me. Felt like we were pretty competitive after that.

“In the big picture, it was a great night. We made it through the first half in good shape and maintained a very small lead, so that’s better than being behind. We’ll go to Talladega (the next race on the schedule) and race hard. Hopefully, our car will have some speed there and we”ll be able to hang up front.”

Harvick, who struggled for much of the evening, is third, 29 points out of first place.

Keselowski’s win was the first for a non-Chase driver in a Chase race since Kahne won at Phoenix in 2011.

“The fact that we weren’t in the Chase didn’t mean we didn’t have the speed to win,” Keselowski said. “This is a very good team. Under the circumstances, this is a big win.”