Brad Keselowski won the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship today at Homestead-Miami Speedway, earning owner Roger Penske's first title in NASCAR's premier series.
For owner Penske, the wait that began before Keselowski was born (1984) finally is over. Penske Racing, which entered the NASCAR Sprint Cup races in 1972, ended the longest non-championship streak among current ownership.
Penske's best previous finish was second in 1993 with NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rusty Wallace. To be the best, Keselowski had to beat the best, Jimmie Johnson. The pair traded the lead of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup five times, the last on Nov. 11 at Phoenix International Raceway where Keselowski finished sixth and Johnson the victim of an accident placed 32nd.
Keselowski's 15th-place finish in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway was all it took to apply the finishing touches to a stellar championship season. Keselowski's championship came in his 125th start, the fewest since Jeff Gordon captured his first of four titles in 1995 in 93 starts.
At age 28, Keselowski is the eighth-youngest competitor to win a first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Keselowski previously won the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series title, owner Penske's first in NASCAR. He joins Bobby Labonte as the only drivers to win both a NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.
After experiencing mechanical problems in two of the first three regular season races, Keselowski's #2 Penske Racing Dodge won at Bristol Motor Speedway to begin a steady march toward the top 10. Backed by championship crew chief Paul Wolfe, Keselowski won three times during the regular season and entered the Chase seeded fourth. A victory at the Chase-opening Chicagoland Speedway race, followed by another at Dover International Speedway, boosted Keselowski from contender to co-favorite with Johnson. Dodge won its fifth series championship, and first since 1975 with Richard Petty.
Brad Keselowski's first career Sprint Cup Series championship was also the first for legendary team owner Roger Penske.
In just his third full-time season, Keselowski locked up the title with a 15th-place finish in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway to become the 29th driver to take home the Cup in NASCAR's 64th season.
"Just how far we've come, Penske Racing - this team is phenomenal, and I'm just so fortunate to have them," Keselowski said. "Everybody back in North Carolina and Morrisville that supports this team. None of this was possible without them. I feel so lucky to have everyone here, just a dream come true to have a car like the Blue Deuce, everybody in the Miller Lite Dodge, and to have fast cars, to have a great team, this is what you dream of as a driver, and I'm just so very fortunate."
Already with an impressive racing resume that includes 15 Indianapolis 500 wins and the 2006 title in the IZOD IndyCar Series, plus a Nationwide Series championship with Keselowski, Penske can now add Sprint Cup champion to his long list of accolades.
"Personally I feel amazing that I've been able to achieve this in racing," Penske said. "I've lauded the people that have been on that stage for so many years in Las Vegas and New York, and to be able to join this elite group and say that I'm a champion in NASCAR means a lot, and certainly as it takes a lot of people. But I think it took the guts for me to stay in the sport. We could have thought, well, we won the Indy 500 15 times and we're a big deal, but I'll tell you one thing: Until you get here and you compete at the top and win it, you really know what's happened, and I think I just woke up here tonight, and it's a big thrill."
Crew Chief Paul Wolfe also took home his first Cup championship to follow up the Nationwide Series title in 2010. Keselowski and Wolfe are the only driver-crew chief combination to win championships in both of NASCAR's top two divisions.
"It's obviously very special, not only for myself but everybody at Penske Racing," Wolfe said. "So much has gone into this, and I'm thankful for the opportunity that RP has given me and Brad. There's been plenty of lists we've passed his way of things we wanted, and it was our job when we got those things to go out there and perform, and I feel like for the most part we've tried to do that, and over the last three years we've been able to accomplish a lot of great things."
At age 28, Keselowski is the eighth-youngest competitor to win a first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. It took him 125 races to win the Cup, the fewest starts since Jeff Gordon won his first of four in 1995 (93).
"Jeff Gordon won the championship at that early age, and you can see he's won multiple championships," Penske said. "I can tell you this, that Paul (Wofle) already said to me we've got to go to work Tuesday morning and get ready to go next year. So it doesn't take long to have it sink in, and we've got to think about the future."
Penske Racing made its first Sprint Cup start in 1972, but only made one complete season run in 1976 with Bobby Allison before stepping up full-time with its flagship car, the No. 2, and NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rusty Wallace in 1991. Penske's previous best finish in the points came with Wallace in 1993, in second.
"It's a special position to be in as an owner," Penske said. "Obviously, as I've said before, it's a goal that I wanted to achieve, and I tried hard. We were close in '93 with Rusty finishing second and then third in '94. That's a long time ago.
"The competition has gotten tougher, and I think that any one weekend there's 10 or 15 cars that can win, and I think for us to be able to have the continuity, and it's a team, we've built a special team here."
The championship was the fifth for Dodge - which is leaving at the end of the season - and first since 1975 with Richard Petty. Since 2003, the Penske team has competed with Dodges and scored 31 wins among four drivers (Ryan Newman, Rusty Wallace and Kurt Busch). Keselowski won eight races among the group, including five this season.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our engineering team that never gave up all season," said Ralph Gilles, Dodge President and CEO Street and Racing Technology Brand and Motorsports. "An amazing accomplishment for everyone for sure. Obviously this project wasn’t one that started yesterday. This has been an 11-year run with a lot of talented people who spend countless hours to make this championship possible. That’s the Dodge way. It’s always been the Dodge way. The underdogs came up did it today. Three years ago people were looking at us sideways when put this deal together. Everybody grew from it. From Brad (Keselowski) to Penske to Dodge, to go out on top it makes it all worthwhile.”
Keselowski, who is from Rochester Hills, Mich., is the first driver from “The Wolverine State” to win the championship. Penske also has a number of ties to Michigan that include being in the state's Motorsports Hall of Fame to the chairman of Super Bowl XL in Detroit.
"To me to bring home this championship, I would have to say in my words, that's like bringing the Super Bowl to Detroit with this young man winning in Michigan and being from the Detroit area," Penske said. "Hopefully he'll get his due and what he deserves for being this great champion, and I'm just glad to be part of it myself."