Richmond, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - After failing to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship last year, Brad Keselowski claimed the top seed for the 10-race playoffs in NASCAR's premier series after winning Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 with an absolutely dominant performance at Richmond International Raceway.
Keselowski started on the pole and led 383 laps, which set a record for most laps led in a scheduled 400-lap race at this three-quarter-mile track. He ran no lower than second during the event, which moved at a pace of 104.702 mph and was completed in 2 hours, 51 minutes and 55 seconds.
The driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford scored his Sprint Cup Series-leading fourth win of the season, giving him the first seed in the Chase. He also delivered team owner Roger Penske's 400th overall victory in major auto racing competition.
"What a night," Keselowski said after winning his 14th career Sprint Cup race. "I pulled into victory lane and pinched myself once to make sure I wasn't dreaming. These are nights you don't forget as a driver and you live for...I couldn't ask for a better way to enter the Chase than to win and take the first seed."
Keselowski won the series championship in 2012 but concluded the 2013 regular season 16th in the point standings (31 points behind Joey Logano, his teammate at Penske, for the final Chase spot). This year, NASCAR has expanded the playoff field from 12 drivers to 16.
"We're ready," Keselowski said. "We want to run for another Cup. We really feel like this team has it. Team Penske is really clicking. We've had plenty of bad luck over the last few weeks, but wow, what a night."
While Keselowski secured the top seed, Ryan Newman, who's in his first season with Richard Childress Racing, and Greg Biffle clinched the final two positions in the Chase field.
Despite finishing two laps behind in 19th-place, Biffle made it into the Chase by just a seven-point margin over Clint Bowyer, who finished third. Biffle entered this race 23 points ahead of Bowyer.
"I'll tell you what, that had to be the toughest race of my life," Biffle said. "Man, I drove so hard, and we just missed the setup. We were way off tonight, which is frustrating, because five top-10's in a row put us in this position. But tonight was not pretty."
Newman ended the regular season 36 points ahead of Bowyer following his ninth- place run at Richmond.
"Everybody [on the No. 31 RCR Chevrolet team] has stepped up, and it's time to step up even more now," Newman said.
Matt Kenseth, Newman and Biffle were those drivers who made it into the Chase without winning a race during the regular season. Kenseth had already clinched his playoff spot with a second-place run last week at Atlanta. He finished 41st at Richmond.
Bowyer came to Richmond desperately needing a win or get a very good finish and hope Newman or Biffle would have a bad result. He finished 38th at Atlanta after suffering a broken shifter early in that event. He held the 15th spot on the provisional Chase grid prior to Atlanta.
"If you make the Chase, you want to compete for a championship, but truth be told, we're not there right now," Bowyer said. "A lot of work to do. We've got to continue to build on momentum like we had here tonight. It's definitely frustrating not making that Chase, but when you do make the Chase, you want it to be for a championship, not just ride around in it. We still haven't won a race [this season]."
Jeff Gordon finished in the runner-up spot, 0.8 seconds behind Keselowski, and grabbed the second seed for the Chase by virtue of his three wins and ending the regular season as the points leader.
"I didn't feel like we had a car that could compete with Brad at certain portions of the night, but we just never gave up on it," Gordon said. "Great pit stops, great adjustments, and there at the end, we were closing on him. It wasn't a win but still great momentum to carry into the Chase. This team is on fire, and we just can't wait to get it all started. It's been a heck of a year."
Jamie McMurray took the fourth spot, and Kevin Harvick placed fifth. Harvick was the other driver who led in this race, as he ran in front for 17 laps.
Kurt Busch was seventh and Jimmie Johnson eighth. Aric Almirola completed the top-10.
After the race had concluded, Johnson was suffering from dehydration and had to be taken to the track's infield medical care center for treatment. The six- time and defending series champion exited his car under his power when he pulled onto pit road, but he immediately laid down next to his vehicle. Members from his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team had to help Johnson get up and then placed him on a cart that transported him to the medical center.
"Just got dehydrated in the car," Johnson said after he was released from the medical center. "Not exactly sure what led to it. We will have to dig in and see what happened. I started cramping when I got out of the race car. Then when I was cramping, I was trying to stand up, because I was fine when I sat down. Then I would stand up and get dizzy. When I would sit back down, I would start to cramp again. Just really dehydrated. Ended up with five liters of IV in me."
Drivers have dealt with hot and humid conditions while on track here throughout the weekend.
"I know there was a couple times throughout the race when I felt like I was kind of cramping a little bit as well," Gordon said. "It was hot out there. We were losing a lot of fluids. There were long green-flag runs. It was hard to keep your fluids going."
Rookie Kyle Larson finished 11th and came up 16 points short of making the Chase.
Tony Stewart, needing to win this race in order to qualify for the Chase, finished 15th, one spot ahead of his teammate, Danica Patrick. Stewart returned to competition at Atlanta after missing three straight races while in seclusion following the Aug. 9 sprint car event at a dirt track in Upstate New York where he struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr.
It's the second straight year that Stewart is absent from the Chase.
This race featured four cautions but none for accidents or spins. The final caution occurred on lap 330 when a spectator managed to climb up the catchfence along the turn 4 area. NASCAR officials displayed the yellow flag for safety and security reasons.
The 10-race championship Chase begins on Sept. 14 at Chicagoland Speedway.