Brad Keselowski, the reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion finally claimed his first win of the 2013 season from behind the wheel of his No. 2 Penske Racing Ford on Saturday night, winning the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Kasey Kahne finished second, and series points leader Matt Kenseth finished third in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
"Just a never give up night," Keselowski said. "A lot of struggles tonight."
Keselowski started the race from the 23rd spot and had to make an extra pit stop during an early-race caution when he pulled out of his pit stall with the jack still under his car and made a lap around the track while dragging the jack.
Keselowski led only 11 laps of the 334-lap event that was dominated by Hendrick Motorsports and took the lead for good after passing Kahne with nine laps remaining.
"I was on two tires, and he was on four," Kahne said. "Wish we could’ve won but second isn't too bad."
The fourth and final caution of the race came out with 27 laps to go. Kahne and the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jeff Gordon took only two tires to restart first and second, while everyone else took four. The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson and Kenseth restarted in the second row, and the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Kyle Busch restarted fifth.
Once the race restarted, Keselowski quickly got by all but Kahne to take second. He and Kahne then raced side-by-side for several laps before Keselowski was finally able to take the lead.
"When (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) made the call to take four tires, and I saw how close we were to the front, I knew we could get them," Keselowski said.
All four Hendrick Motorsports drivers -- Kahne, Gordon, Johnson and the No. 88 Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran in the top-five for most of the first 200 laps of the race, with only a select few others able to join the HMS brigade. Truex ran in the top-five early but eventually drifted back and wound up outside the top-10.
Later, Busch and Kenseth made their ways into the top-five. Busch and Kenseth each climbed into the top five after a cycle of green-flag pit stops just after lap 125, recovering from a miscue during the lap 25 caution when he left pit road with lug nuts loose on his right-front wheel, necessitating an additional stop. Meanwhile, Kenseth was making his way toward the front from his 20th-place starting spot.
"We were off the first two or three runs," Kenseth said. "We just started way behind, because I qualified so poorly."
It was at that same time that Gordon and Earnhardt began drifting back. Earnhardt eventually fell off the lead lap and wound up finishing 15th. Gordon was able to remain in the top-10 to finish seventh.
Gordon started on the pole and led the way until the first caution of the race on lap 25 when both Kahne and Johnson took two tires to restart in the top-two spots. Earnhardt also led laps early, taking the lead on lap 31 and running up front until he got behind Kahne 13 laps later in an attempt to clean trash off of his grill. After that, Kahne and Johnson took over command of the lead position. Kahne led a race-high 138 laps, while Johnson led 130. Until Keselowski took the lead late in the race, the only laps not led by a Hendrick Motorsports entry were handfuls of laps here and there during green-flag cycles of pit stops.
"I actually had a great car all night," Kahne said.
Johnson joined Kahne inside the top-five at the end by finishing fourth, while Busch rounded out the top-five. The No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Kevin Harvick was sixth, the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet of Ryan Newman eighth, the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin ninth and the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Carl Edwards finished 10th.
With Johnson and Kenseth both leading laps (Kenseth led one lap by staying out an extra lap during a green-flag pit cycle), Kenseth added one point to his championship lead over Johnson to now lead by four, halfway through the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup.
"Glad we're still in the lead," Kenseth said. "There's still a lot of racing still left to do."