JOLIET, Ill. Brad Keselowski and Penske Racing met the "gold standard" in NASCAR on Sunday.
To win a championship, however, they'll have to exceed it.
It's what Keselowski and team owner Roger Penske have dearly wanted: to come out on top in a head-to-head battle with Jimmie Johnson's No. 48 Hendrick team for a NASCAR race victory.
Keselowski did just that using a fast late-race pit stop to overtake Johnson, then hold him off for the win in the GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
The victory was not only Keselowski's first Sprint Cup win in the Chase for the Cup but vaulted him into the points lead for the first time in his career.
"We've been wanting to race the No. 48 for as many years as I think I've been in the sport," Penske said. "To be able to race side-by-side within two or three seconds for probably almost 100 laps and come out on top is a real credit to (Keselowski's) driving skills."
After Sunday's race, Penske repeatedly referred to Hendrick Motorsports as the "gold standard" in NASCAR.
There is certainly plenty of evidence to back that claim, including Johnson's NASCAR-record five consecutive Cup titles from 2006 to 2010.
Keselowski qualified for the Chase for the first time last season and finished fifth in the standings but failed to post a win in the final 10 races. Sunday's victory was Keselowski's fourth this season and eighth of his career.
"There's no better place to start than in the lead," Keselowski said. "It feels like Round 1 of a heavyweight title bout. You know it's good to win it, it feels great, but there are a lot of rounds left. It's a good start but there's a long ways to go."
Johnson and Keselowski showed early they were the class of the field. Johnson led a race-high 172 laps, while Keselowski led 76. No other driver led more than six.
Johnson had a sizable advantage late in the race when the final round of green-flag pit stops began on Lap 228. Keselowski made up significant time on his pit stop, and when he blended back onto the track, he was in front of Johnson.
Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief, questioned NASCAR officials whether Keselowski had merged too early, but NASCAR had no issue with the move.
"He did cut up early," Johnson said. "It did impede my progress; I had to check up and wasn't sure where things were going. But it didn't affect the outcome. The way he made quick work in traffic and stretched (the lead) out on me, I'm not sure I would have held him off."
Keselowski felt he did nothing wrong.
"It's a policy of merging down the backstretch, and I feel like that's what we did," he said. "I think NASCAR agreed, as well, based on their no-call."
From there, Keselowski widened his lead to three seconds until taking the checkered flag.
"It's 10 long races, and a lot can happen," Johnson said. "To come out of here in second is a great day. Of course I want to be in Victory Lane, but we'll take second and go on to the next one."
Jeff Gordon, who barely squeezed into the Chase with a strong finish last week, saw his hopes for a fifth title dim considerably. He finished 35th after a stuck throttle caused him to slam into the Turn 1 wall on Lap 188.