RICHMOND, Va. — All the drama Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway was about the Chase for the Championship. There certainly wasn't any at the front.
Brad Keselowski routed the field in the Federated Auto Parts 400 for his series-high fourth victory of 2014, giving him the top seed in NASCAR's 10-race, season-ending Chase.
Keselowski led all but 17 of the 400 laps of the regular-season finale. A new win-and-in format this year could have created a final push for a driver to make the Chase, but nobody had anything for Keselowski.
"What a night. I pulled into Victory Lane and I pinched myself once to make sure I wasn't dreaming," the 2012 series champion said. "These are nights you don't forget as a driver and you live for."
Keselowski came to Richmond a year ago needing a strong finish to make the Chase, but he missed out. Now he'll try to give Team Penske a season sweep — Will Power gave the organization the IndyCar title a week ago.
"I think last year was a bit of a kick in the butt," Keselowski said. "It was enough to really push us all and find another level. We did a great job in 2012, but in the sports world you've got to keep progressing. Everyone else progressed and we didn't."
There were two spots up for grabs in the 16-driver Chase field, which Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle owned coming in. They both held on — Newman never left anything to chance with a strong ninth-place finish. Biffle slid into the final spot by finishing 19th.
"When you are that far off, it is the hardest thing in the world to drive," Biffle said. "This is the toughest thing I've ever done in my life, drive and try to stay in the top 20."
Jeff Gordon, the points leader for much of the regular season, finished second. Clint Bowyer, who needed to win to guarantee his Chase berth, was a disappointing third and wound up seven points behind Biffle.
"I knew coming in here, it was a long shot at best," Bowyer said. "We put it all out there. I raced as hard as we could. At our very best, we were a third-place race car tonight at my very best racetrack."
Defending champion Jimmie Johnson finished eighth but appeared ill when he exited the car. He first laid down next to his car, then had to be helped to a cart by his Hendrick Motorsports crew. He was taken to the infield care center.
Tony Stewart, in his second race since he sat out three after his sprint car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. at a New York dirt track, finished 15th. The three-time champion had cracked the top 10 but his crew missed a lug nut on a late pit stop that took him out of contention.
NASCAR called a caution with 71 laps left because a fan had climbed to the top of the catch fence that separates the track and grandstands. Most of the field used the break to pit and Keselowski remained in control.