BRISTOL, Tenn. — Brad Keselowski used Bristol Motor Speedway in the fall to cement his spot in NASCAR's championship race.
Back at the track Sunday, Keselowski again made his way to Victory Lane. And he again began to think about a Sprint Cup title.
Keselowski led a career-best and race-high 232 laps at the half-mile concrete oval, then held off Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth on a late restart for his first win this year.
"What can I say? I love Bristol, and Bristol loves me," said Keselowski, who began taking pictures in Victory Lane to post to Twitter.
"The goal at Penske Racing is to win a Sprint Cup championship, and one win certainly doesn't achieve that, but it's a great step."
The Chase for the Championship has a wild-card provision for the winningest driver not otherwise eligible. Keselowski's win at Bristol in August was his third of the year and gave him the provisional that allowed him in the title chase last year.
Now, just a month into the season, he's focused on collecting victories. "One win is good; two wins is really good," Keselowski said. "If we run like we have the last few weeks, we've got as good a shot as anybody else."
Keselowski escaped an early seven-car accident, worked to the front, then settled in for a battle with Kenseth over the final third of the race. Kenseth beat Keselowski on one of their restarts — fans complained on Twitter that Kenseth had jumped the start — and Keselowski had to run him down to reclaim the lead. But a late caution when Tony Stewart hit the wall put Keselowski's win in jeopardy.
"I've got no clue what to do here," he radioed crew chief Paul Wolfe, who decided not to bring Keselowski into the pits under caution.
Then Keselowski had to decide which lane to choose for the final restart; he chose outside.
"I knew as long as I could beat him on the first lap, I knew I had a good enough car and I'm a good enough driver to win," Keselowski said. "Matt didn't make it easy."
Kenseth, who took second in his Roush Fenway Racing Ford, denied jumping the earlier restart.
"I knew it was close, but here is the thing: When you get to the second line, they say that the race is on," he said. "I didn't even floor it until we got to the start-finish line. I don't know if he was trying to let me beat him on purpose or what was going on."
Keselowski said judging the restarts was "too subjective" and that a no-call "was the right call."
Three Toyotas from Michael Waltrip Racing rounded out the top five and marked a strong return to racing for Brian Vickers.
Martin Truex led the MWR contingent with a third-place finish. He was followed by Bowyer and Vickers, who had been out of work since Red Bull Racing closed at the end of last season, Vickers was tabbed last week to run six of the races that Mark Martin sits out this season.
Vickers led a career-high 125 laps. In 14 previous races at Bristol, he had led only one lap and never finished in the top 10.
"When it's your only one, you have to make it count," Vickers said. "This was pretty good, and it felt really good when we were out there leading."
Jimmie Johnson finished ninth in what is likely his last race for some time with crew chief Chad Knaus. Hendrick Motorsports goes before NASCAR's chief appellate officer Tuesday, trying to get Knaus' six-race suspension overturned. Johnson's Chevy failed inspection at the Daytona 500.