Brad Keselowski didn't lead many laps Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but he was out front for the important ones. Keselowski outlasted the competition to win the Bank of America 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race, the first win of 2013 for the defending NASCAR champion.
Keselowski wrestled the lead away from Kasey Kahne with nine laps to go after battling side-by-side with Kahne for several laps following the final restart.
"I raced Kasey really hard," Keselowski said. "I love hard racing, and there are a handful of guys who can't race hard in this deal because they freak out, but Kasey's not one of them. He's an excellent driver. He ran me hard, but he ran me clean."
Kahne said he tried everything he could to keep Keselowski in his mirror, but the defending champ had four new tires and a bag full of tricks.
"I took two (tires) at the end and thought I'd be pretty good, but as soon as I got to Turn 1, I knew I was in trouble with the four-tire guys," Kahne said. "So I tried to just run good laps but Brad caught me, so then I tried to mix it up a bit. It was a great battle. I had a great time racing with him; we just came out on the wrong side of it."
Before that final restart, the race had been Jimmie Johnson's to lose. He led from lap 229 until a caution for debris with 26 laps remaining sent the leaders into the pits for tires and a dose of strategy.
Kahne and Jeff Gordon took two tires, while the rest of the leaders took four. Johnson's pit crew got him out ahead of the rest of the four-tire drivers, putting him in third for the restart. But a miscue at the green relegated him far enough back in the field that he couldn't recover.
Johnson ended up fourth, but he remains in the championship hunt just three points behind championship leader Matt Kenseth, who finished just ahead in third position.
"We had that last caution, which shook things up and then I pushed the (Kahne) off into Turn 1, and evidently I was too close to him and in his wake and my car washed up a little bit because I started to leave the bottom," Johnson said. "I just lost track position, which was unfortunate. Once I got rolling and going again, I was fine, but I'd just lost too much track position."