Rather than bolt to the front, he retreated to run fifth while Kyle Busch rocketed to the front. Busch would dominate until the fuel management by Gordon, Bowyer and third-place Ryan Newman consigned him to a disappointing fourth-place finish.
After the first round of pit stops, Keselowski never again appeared in the top five, taking particular care in traffic on restarts after the three caution periods for debris and a minor wall-banger.
Rather that engage in duels, he would find open track where he would be unlikely to drive into someone else’s accident.
The 15th-place finish was his worst in the 10 Cup races. He outdueled Johnson in a one-two finish to start the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway, and they were the primary combatants from that point forward.
The unfailingly confident Keselowski won twice and added six more top-10 finishes while refusing to blink despite the pressure applied by Johnson. A blown tire that sent Johnson into the wall at Phoenix greatly reduced the pressure on Keselowski in the final chapter.
“He’s the best,” Keselowski said of Johnson. “He proved it here [Sunday]” by getting the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet to the lead. “He was going to win the damned race, and I know that.
“We were not as fast as we wanted to be, and we’d be the first to admit that. But my guys never gave up. We kept working, and at the end there, we were even capable of getting back up enough to where it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d have won.”
Keselowski, who hinted at future Cup stardom with a 2010 Nationwide series title, vowed to build on what he has achieved.
“I feel the best is yet to come,” he said. “I really do. You’re a product of who you surround yourself by, and I’m surrounded by the best.”