'New kid' Kes lands blow to Five-Time's aura


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JOLIET, Ill. -- For a race-high 172 laps Sunday in the opening Chase for the Sprint Cup race at Chicagoland Speedway, it appeared five-time champion Jimmie Johnson was sending a strong and intimidating message to the rest of the field.

But Brad Keselowski and his No. 2 Dodge team did not flinch.
In fact, toward the very end of the GEICO 400, it was Keselowski who beat Johnson out of the pits and even made the No. 48 team appear to grasp at straws a bit, taking the lead for good in the process.

*Video: Keselowski gets past Johnson, cruises to Chicagoland win

So take notice, folks: there is a new heavyweight player in this year's Chase. In fact, Keselowski said as much as he celebrated in Victory Lane.

"We're in Victory Lane one race into the Chase," Keselowski said. "It feels like Round One of a heavyweight title bout. You know it's good to win it, it feels great, but there are a lot of rounds left."

After taking the lead from Johnson on the strength of a stout 12.9-second, four-tire-and-fuel pit stop with 35 laps remaining, Keselowski ran away with Round One. Nine rounds remain on the Chase schedule as he continues in his dogged attempt to give Penske Racing owner Roger Penske his first championship in NASCAR's top national touring series.

So, yes, there is still a long way to go. But to pick off the first one on an afternoon when Johnson seemed to have the entire field covered meant a great deal to both the winning driver and the winning owner. Remember, Johnson's nickname is Five-Time because of the five consecutive championships he won prior to last season.

"They're the gold standard. And we want to beat 'em," Penske said.

Conflicting emotions

Penske was more than a little bummed after he lost out on the IndyCar Series championship in the final race of that season Saturday night, when driver Will Power appeared to have the championship in hand before wrecking at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

But the motorsports icon never considered missing out on Chicagoland for Sunday's race. Keselowski wouldn't let him.

"I've got to check in with Brad," Penske said. "He expects me here."

Keselowski likely won't have to double check with Penske about the owner's attendance plans the rest of the way in the Chase. But the energetic driver probably will anyway.

"He won't let me sleep, I can tell you that," said Penske, who at age 75 could use a good night's rest now and then. "I get Twitters; I'm a big texter now. ... He and I are talking all the time. I've got to get to my day job sometimes, I tell him."

Read more at http://www.nascar.com/news/120916/jmenzer-bkeselowski-wins-to-start-chase/index.html