THE RACE TO THE CHASE IS UNDERWAY

Kahne Moves into the Wild Card

With nine races until the Chase cutoff, there are three drivers tied for the final wild card spot: Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano. Kahne technically leads on a tiebreaker following Saturday night's race at Kentucky (photo courtesy: Rainier Erhardt, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)

Brad Keselowski held off a charging Kasey Kahne in the closing laps to drive the No. 2 Penske Racing car to victory lane for the third time in 2012. Keselowski won Race 17 of 36 en route to NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 16-18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Despite temporarily going into fuel conservation mode during the final green flag run at Kentucky, Keselowski held off a charging No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports car driven by Kahne in the late going to drive the “Blue Deuce” to victory lane for the third time in 2012.

"What a weekend, man," Keselowski said in Victory Lane. “Hard work equals results, and this team works hard.”

Keselowski was the only driver at Kentucky to compete in all three NASCAR races. On Saturday night, he also was the only driver to pick up a third Sprint Cup Series win of the season.

“I wanted all three, but sometimes that ain’t meant to happen,” Keselowski said about his starts in the Truck, Nationwide and Cup races. “But second, seventh and a first ain’t bad at all.”

With the Race to the Chase in full swing, Keselowski is serving notice about his championship chances. Keselowski has moved his way into the season-ending and all-important Chase for the Championship, which will culminate in South Florida Nov. 18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

As the Cup series builds to its climactic stretch run, Keselowski, who also won at Bristol and Talladega and is now 10th in the standings, is making a lot of people take notice.

Kyle Busch stands 12th with the top 12 through the first 26 races making the Chase “playoffs.” The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

“We’re still within reach and everything,” Busch said. “We’re certainly not running the way we need to be running.”

Kahne, who used a late rally to close to second in Kentucky, climbed into the final wild-card position at 14th.

“A top-five (finish) is good, but it’s probably not going to get us in the Chase,” he said. “We need to win a race or two more to make the Chase.”

Kahne rallied from a lap down to squeeze Keselowski’s final advantage to 4.399 seconds. Kahne had finished higher than 19th just once in the season’s first six races. Crashes at Pocono and Michigan put a damper on his hopes before he started picking off cars in the final few laps at Kentucky.

Because Carl Edwards, 11th in the standings, and 13th-place Paul Menard have yet to win, Kahne has an advantage thanks to his win at Charlotte.

“It’s time for us to get it in gear,” Edwards said. “I am real frustrated. (Crew chief) Bob (Osborne) is real frustrated. I know we can do this.”

Heading into this weekend’s race at Daytona, Matt Kenseth is first in the standings, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Tony Stewart and Keselowski. The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, to be crowned in Miami on Nov. 18. Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

While the Chase subplots were accumulating, Keselowski was adding to an extraordinary year. In three of his first seven starts, he finished near the bottom. He also had not cracked the top 10 in his four previous starts before coming to Kentucky.

Keselowski conceded that his team had “reliability issues” early in the year.

But he has had his Penske car in contention in almost all the rest of the 17 races so far. With just nine races left before the Chase, the 28-year-old Michigan native is just confident enough to believe he can create even more havoc.

“The only thing that means anything is who’s in the top 10 and who has the most wins when the Chase gets going,” he said. “That is the only thing that matters.”

Keselowski not the only driver with his sights set on a NASCAR Championship. NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., hadn’t won a race in 143 starts dating to 2008 before winning at Michigan two weeks ago. After placing fourth at Kentucky, he said he’s not so willing to wait for another trip to Victory Lane.

“I ain’t going to be as patient this time,” Earnhardt said. "I was pretty loose; I wasn't having a lot of fun that last 30 laps."

Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet and Jimmie Johnson finished fourth through sixth, giving team owner Rick Hendrick four of the top-six spots in the finishing order.

Next up for the Sprint Cup Series drivers is Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, July 7 (6:30 p.m. ET, TNT, MRN Radio) — en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 16-18). Tickets for Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 16-18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are available now. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

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