JOLIET, Ill. (AP) - Brad Keselowski used a dominating run Saturday to win the Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway, where he hoped to carry some momentum into the opening round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Keselowski capitalized on Carl Edwards running out of gas on pit road to grab a sizable lead that was never challenged. He beat Edwards to the finish line by 8.568 seconds for his third victory of the season.
It was the first win for the defending Nationwide champion since his July victory at Indianapolis. He broke his left ankle in a crash while testing at Road Atlanta four days after that win, and sat out three scheduled races as he healed.
He returned to NASCAR's second-tier series three weeks ago, and broke through for the win on the eve of the opening round of the Chase. Keselowski won two Cup races after he was injured to storm through the standings and claim one of the two wild-card berths into the Chase field.
What does the win do for his chances Sunday?
"There's always the confidence, that's the biggest thing," said Keselowski, who will start sixth in the first of the 10 Chase races. "I think we're on a good stretch. We haven't even started the Chase. I like what we're doing on the Nationwide side, and hopefully there's some momentum and all those good things, good karma paying off and paying forward on the Cup side.
"But as of right now, it's just the Nationwide race, and tomorrow is tomorrow."
Keselowski led four times for 158 of the 200 laps.
Edwards, another Chase driver, rallied from the fuel miscue to finish second.
"I had a really good time racing with Brad about halfway through the race for the lead, that was a lot of fun," Edwards said. "We just had a little trouble there on pit road. Ran out of fuel, then we had a really long green flag run. I would have liked the opportunity to race Brad, I guess we just didn't get that caution."
But even after Edwards trailed Keselowski by a large margin for the final green-flag run, which stretched 131 laps, he praised NASCAR for not calling a suspect caution just to bunch the field back together.
"I really applaud NASCAR for letting the race run its course. Anything can happen," Edwards said. "I think too often NASCAR is quick to throw cautions. I think they showed me and everybody that if there is nothing out there and no reason to throw a caution then they won't. I think it lends a lot of credibility to the series and they showed today that they don't mind that a guy is out there with a seven or eight-second lead. They will let the race run its course.
"I think that is a big statement for them to make before the Chase starts."
Edwards isn't so sure, though, what kind of statement Keselowski made for the Chase.
"It is definitely two different series," Edwards said. "I can't tell you how many times I have run so well on Saturday and struggled on Sunday because it is so tough. They are two separate events."
Keselowski is already considered a threat to challenge for the Sprint Cup title based on the run he reeled off after his Aug. 3 crash. He won the Cup race four days later at Pocono, was second at Watkins Glen, third at Michigan and then won at Bristol.
There were many who speculated Keselowski's surge in Sprint Cup was due to him sitting out of the Nationwide Series. He insisted Saturday there's no correlation.
"I don't think it's fair to a lot of different people and to reality," Keselowski said. "The reality of it is we have become more successful as a team as we've been able to execute the weekend on the Cup side, and part of the reasons why we're executing the weekend better are just plain luck. That didn't have anything to do with driving a Nationwide car the day before ... I just don't connect the two."
Brian Scott matched his previous career-best finish of third, earned at Chicagoland in July 2010.
"Racing with the Cup guys is the best experience that a Nationwide guy can get," Scott said. "You're not going to get to that level unless you're racing them. Today, I think it shows where our performance is capable of as a team in a field full of a lot of Cup drivers. I'm proud of the effort and we just need to keep having runs like this to make it happen more often."
Aric Almirola was fourth and Sam Hornish Jr. finished a career-best fifth.