Brad Keselowski made a monstrous statement in the battle for the Sprint Cup Series championship after winning Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.
Keselowski conserved enough fuel late in the race and grabbed the lead when Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin were forced to pit for fuel after running in the top-two positions with 10 laps remaining. Keselowski then held off Jeff Gordon at the finish by one second for his fifth win of the season and the ninth of his Sprint Cup Series career.
With the win, Keselowski moved back into the points lead. The Penske Racing driver entered this 400-mile race only one point behind Jimmie Johnson. He now holds a five-point advantage over the five-time series champion.
Keselowski had considered Dover, which is nicknamed "The Monster Mile," as one of his toughest racetracks on the Sprint Cup schedule. Prior to his win, he had finished no better than 12th in five races here.
"This has been one of our weakest tracks, but we ran up front all day," Keselowski said. "We might not have been lead, but we hung around in the top- five. And we just kept creeping around and creeping around. When you do that, you put yourself in position for good things to happen. That's what this No. 2 team had done for the last few months. If we keep doing this for the next seven weeks, it's going to be an awesome seven weeks."
Keselowski and almost all the other drivers on the lead lap made their final pit stops during a caution with 89 laps left on this tricky one-mile track.
"We knew it was going to be close," Keselowski's crew chief, Paul Wolfe, said. "We knew everybody was kind of in the same boat. We were monitoring them all day, and we were a little better than they were on (fuel) mileage. We pushed as hard as we could until we got in front of them, and then we went into 100 percent save."
Winning two of the first three Chase races, Keselowski is following in the same footsteps as Tony Stewart did last year. Stewart had two victories in three races and went on to claim his third Sprint Cup championship.
"I feel like I've got a great team for the Chase, and I'm just so thankful to win here at Dover," Keselowski added.
Gordon and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Kasey Kahne, pitted for fuel after Matt Kenseth forced the fifth and final caution on lap 317 for a broken track bar.
"When that caution came out, we decided to top it off, so it kind of played to our favor since we didn't have to save fuel," Gordon said. "The car was pretty good on that (last) run."
Mark Martin finished third, while Johnson placed fourth and Carl Edwards fifth. Johnson led in the late going, in hopes of winning at Dover for a record eighth time, but had to give up the top spot in order to save enough fuel to finish the race.
"We're not very good at fuel mileage," Johnson said. "It's tough, but we have a handful of races that come down to it each year, and we've worked to get better at it. I wished we could have raced for (the win). We finally got control of the race late, but it just didn't unfold like a normal race here."
Chase driver Martin Truex Jr. finished sixth. Busch, who dominated most of this race by leading 302 laps, ended up finishing seventh, while Hamlin, the pole sitter, settled for eighth. Earlier this month in the regular-season- ending event at Richmond, Busch fell three points short of making the Chase.
Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano completed the top-10.
Hamlin is currently 16 points behind Keselowski, while Bowyer trails by 25.
"It's a good day to run the way we did, but it was frustrating at the end," Hamlin said.
Kahne and Stewart are both 32 points out of the lead. Kahne finished 15th and Stewart 20th. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 39 points behind following his 11th-place run.
Eighth through 11th in points right now are: Truex (-42), Kevin Harvick (-46), Gordon (-48) and Greg Biffle (-51). Harvick finished 13th and Biffle 16th.
Kenseth took the biggest hit in points. His 35th-place finish put him last in the 12-member Chase field. He trails Keselowski by 72 points.
The fourth round in the Chase takes place next Sunday at Talladega. Keselowski won the spring race there in May.