"He was so fast, he could come back around and take everybody again...how do you outrun that?"
The words of a disappointed.Clint Bowyer, talking of the dominating performance of Brad Keselowski, who clinched the number one seed in the 2014 NASCAR Chase For The Sprint Cup Championship, leading nearly from start to finish in the 57th Annual Federated Auto Parts 400 Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway.
Keselowski, the pole-sitter, led all but 17 laps, and every lap after the race went official at the 200-lap mark, as rain in the region threatened the race but never appeared. Jeff Gordon, who entered the race as the points leader, finished second, eight-tenths of a second behind, while the aforementioned Bowyer, who had to win the race to clinch one of two remaining open Chase berths, was third, behind by 6.512 seconds.
The new Chase format begins in Chicago next Sunday, as eliminations will take place over the final ten races, leading to only four drivers being eligible to win the championship at the season finale in November at Homestead in Miami, Florida. Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle, by virtue of finishing 9th and 19th respectively, higher than they needed to without a first-time winner to make the Chase, take the 15th and 16th slots in the championship round.
"I didn't feel like we had a car that could compete with Brad, but great adjustments and at the end we were closing on him," said Jeff Gordon after the race. Gordon, who has won four NASCAR titles in a seven-year period, hasn't done so since 2001. Gordon highly complimented his team as they enter the final ten weeks.
"There's no one I'd rather go to battle with," Gordon noted. "These guys are really clicking right now."
As for Keselowski, who just missed out on a Chase berth a year ago at RIR, fortunes are totally different.
"I pulled into Victory Lane and I pinched myself once to make sure I wasn't dreaming," Keselowski said. "These are nights you don't forget as a driver and you live for."
The driver of the #2 is mindful not to let the Richmond win be the crescendo of the season, with the top seed in hand in a Chase format that has never been experienced before.
"We're ready. We want to run for another Cup," Keselowski explained. "We did a great job in 2012, but in the sports world you've got to keep progressing, and everyone else progressed and we didn't. This year, we really have upped our game, and man, this is an incredible team."
An incredible team that put on an incredible performance Saturday night at the "Action Track".
NOTES: Average speed was 104.704 MPH, time of the race was 2:53:50....there were only four cautions; two for debris, a competition caution at lap 50 due to rain earlier in the day, and a final caution when a fan climbed to near the top of the fence high above the track. He was corralled by security...Chesterfield native Denny Hamlin finished 21st, while Dale Earnhardt, Jr finished 12th, Tony Stewart 15th and Danica Patrick 16th.