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Auto race: Keselowski finishes 15th, good enough for Sprint Cup title

Pleasantly unsurprised

Published: Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012 11:16 p.m. CDT
Caption
(AP)
Team owner Roger Penske (third from left) and Brad Keselowski (second from right) celebrate after Keselowski won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship following his 15th-place finish in Sunday's race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Fla.

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Here’s a tweet for Brad Keselowski: NASCAR champion.

Roger Penske must like the sound of that, too.

The kid who stole the show at the season-opening Daytona 500 ended the year Sunday by beating five-time champion Jimmie Johnson to deliver the first Sprint Cup championship to Penske Racing.

His first act as champion? Sending a tweet from inside his car: “We did it!” with a picture of the celebration waiting for him.

“Throughout my whole life, I’ve been told I’m not big enough, not fast enough, not strong enough and I don’t have what it takes,” Keselowski said from the championship stage. “It took until this year for me to realize that they right, man.

“I’m not big enough, fast enough, strong enough. No person is. Only a team can do that.”

Keselowski and Penske hoisted the Sprint Cup trophy together at Homestead-Miami Speedway following Keselowski’s 15th-place finish Sunday night.

Keselowski needed 125 starts to win his first championship, the fewest starts since four-time champion Jeff Gordon won his first title in 93 starts in 1995.

Gordon, who avoided suspension this week but was fined $100,000 by NASCAR for intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer last week at Phoenix, overcame the controversy to win the race in a 20th anniversary celebration for sponsor Dupont and Hendrick Motorsports.

Keselowski started the race up 20 points on Johnson and needed to finish 15th or higher for the title. But the Penske team took nothing for granted – not after Will Power crashed in the IndyCar finale to blow a 17-point lead.

And this one got tight, too, especially when Keselowski ran out of gas on pit road during green flag pit stops. But minutes later, Johnson went to pit road for his own stop and pulled away with a missing lug nut. NASCAR flagged the Hendrick Motorsports team and Johnson was forced back to pit road for another stop.

“It all unraveled pretty quick,” Johnson conceded.

No longer needing to save fuel, and no longer needing to play it conservatively, he waived off Wolfe’s playbook.

“If he’s in the garage, let’s race,” Keselowski said.

That’s been Keselowski’s attitude since he burst onto the NASCAR scene. He first caught attention as a brash driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Nationwide Series team, and he was unapologetic for his aggressive driving and his refusal to back down in long-running feuds with established stars Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.

But he’s been calmer and focused since teaming with Penske in 2009, and his mission has been to give Penske a title. Still, his fame has been for the tweeting, which drew him worldwide attention when he took to Twitter from the cockpit of his car during the red flag in the season-opening Daytona 500.

NASCAR loved the attention it received, but quietly admonished him later for having a phone in his car, which is banned because it can manipulate electronic fuel injection systems. So when he tweeted again last week under red at Phoenix, NASCAR fined him $25,000 — which angered fans who felt a mixed message had been sent.

But Keselowski, who was tweeting into the early morning hours Sunday, handed his phone over with no resistance right before he climbed into the car at Homestead.

The win is the first for Dodge since Richard Petty’s Cup title in 1975, and comes as the manufacturer is leaving NASCAR. Penske announced days after the Daytona 500 it will move to Ford next year, and it led to Dodge’s decision to pull out of NASCAR.

“Not one failure all year long in that Dodge engine, so I want to thank Dodge for what they’ve done for us,” Penske said after Keselowski secured the title.

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