CONCORD, N.C. — Brad Keselowski ended a 37-race winless streak Saturday night by chasing down Kasey Kahne in the closing laps of the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The defending Sprint Cup champion, who failed to qualify for the Chase for the Championship this year, grabbed his first win of the season and first since Sept. 30, 2012, at Dover, by passing Kahne with nine laps to go in his Penske Racing Ford.
Keselowski became the first non-Chase driver to win a Chase race since Kahne at Phoenix in 2011.
"I never give up. I didn't qualify well. But I kept working my way forward. I knew we had a good car," said Keselowski, who started 23rd and at one time during the race and was penalized for driving out of his pit stall with his jack still connected to his car.
The race changed dramatically with 27 laps remaining and Jimmie Johnson seemingly on his way to an easy victory. But a debris caution sent the leaders to pit road and ended Johnson's march to a record seventh Charlotte win.
Hendrick teammates Kahne and Jeff Gordon took only two tires and raced off pit road first, while everyone else took four tires and lined up behind them. Johnson came out in third and should have been in good shape on four fresh tires.
Instead, Johnson had a terrible restart and fell to seventh.
"There was a caution that shook things up," Johnson shrugged.
Kahne pulled away with the rest of the leaders. Chase leader Matt Kenseth was in the mix for a moment, but Keselowski, sixth on the restart, got past him and took over second.
Keselowski then set his sights on Kahne. He had picked his way through traffic but getting past Kahne wasn't easy. Keselowski needed several attempts before making it stick.
"I love hard racing, and there are a handful of guys who can't race hard and they freak out; he's not one of them," Keselowski said about Kahne. "He's an excellent driver. He ran me hard but ran me clean, and that is great racing. He did a hell of a job and deserves a lot of credit for it."
Kahne finished second in a Chevrolet and was followed by the Toyota of Kenseth, who now holds a four-point lead over Johnson going into next week's Chase race at Talladega.
"I'm happy we finished third," said Kenseth, who was the lowest qualifying Chase driver at 20th. "I was so far behind because I qualified so poorly and needed all night to get back up there. Then at the very end they gave me a shot to win, and I'm slightly disappointed that I didn't take advantage of that opportunity."
Johnson wound up fourth and said he had trouble when he tried to push teammate Kahne on the restart.
"Evidently I was too close to him and in his way, and my car washed up a little bit," Johnson said. "A couple of guys were able to get inside of me. I just lost track position at that point, which was unfortunate. Once I got rolling again I was fine, but I lost too much at that point."
Kyle Larson made his Sprint Cup debut driving a Chip Ganassi Racing-prepared car. He was impressive early, driving from 21st inside the top 12, and he lingered there alongside Juan Pablo Montoya, the driver he will replace next season for Ganassi.
Larson eventually dropped to 16th, where he stayed until his engine lost a cylinder and eventually failed, sending him to the garage with 87 laps remaining.
"I had a lot of fun tonight," said Larson, who finished 37th. Formula One: Red Bull driver Mark Webber claimed the pole for the Japanese Grand Prix, qualifying ahead of his teammate and runaway championship leader Sebastian Vettel for the first time this season. Webber clocked 1 minute, 30.975 seconds at the Suzuka circuit, with Vettel just under two-tenths of a second behind in second after struggling with his KERS power-boost system. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton was third fastest, followed by Lotus' Romain Grosjean and Ferrari's Felipe Massa.
Sprint Cup points
With five races remaining in the Chase for the Championship.
Driver Pts. Back
Matt Kenseth 2,225—
Jimmie Johnson 2,221 4
Kevin Harvick 2,196 29
Jeff Gordon 2,189 36
Kyle Busch 2,188 37
Greg Biffle 2,167 58
Kurt Busch 2,166 59
Clint Bowyer 2,162 63
Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,159 66
Carl Edwards 2,158 67
Joey Logano 2,150 75
Ryan Newman 2,147 78
Kasey Kahne 2,144 81
Note: Points unofficial; NASCAR posts official results Monday
Winner's average speed: 158.312 mph
Time of race: 3 hours, 9 minutes, 57 seconds
Margin of victory: 1.022 seconds
Caution flags: 4 for 20 laps
Lead changes: 24 among 11 drivers
Lap leaders: J.Gordon 1-26; D.Gilliland 27; K.Kahne 28-29; D.Earnhardt Jr. 30-43; Kahne 44-73; J.Johnson 74; R.Newman 75; C.Edwards 76; Ky.Busch 77; Kahne 78-90; Earnhardt 91-95; Kahne 96-128; Newman 129; M.Kenseth 130; C.Bowyer 131; B.Keselowski 132-133; Kahne 134-173; Ky.Busch 174; Kahne 175-177; Johnson 178-227; Ky.Busch 228; Johnson 229-307; Ky.Busch 308; Kahne 309-325; Keselowski 326-334