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NASCAR/Racing

Keselowski delivers for the Captain

November 20th, 2012 10:57 pm by Jeff Birchfield

Brad Keselowski was able to do something Sunday which Bobby Allison, Dave Marcis, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, and even Rusty Wallace weren’t able to.
That was bring a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship to legendary car owner Roger Penske. It was fitting that Keselowski accomplished the feat. Two years earlier, he won the Nationwide Series title, the first NASCAR championship for Penske, an owner noted for his open-wheel success including a record 15 Indianapolis 500 victories.
Consequently, Paul Wolfe became the first crew chief to win a championship for Penske, nicknamed “The Captain.” As the case with the drivers, you go back through Penske’s history in NASCAR racing and there are such greats as Buddy Parrott, Robin Pemberton and Steve Addington who weren’t able to win championships with the organization.
Before Keselowski and Wolfe raced the blue No. 2 Dodge to this season’s championship, Penske came closest to a title in 1993 when Wallace drove his Pontiac to a series-best 10 wins and finished 80 points behind Dale Earnhardt in the final standings.
Although Penske had the largest race shop in the sport, a massive 425,000-square feet facility, many saw it as a mistake when Keselowski left Hendrick Motorsports as a developmental driver in 2008 to join forces with the legendary car owner.
It’s proved to be an unusual, but incredibly fruitful combination -- a free-spirited 28-year-old driver and the 75-year-old car owner, who is one of the most successful businessmen in America.
While Penske deserves kudos for taking a chance with the young driver, the same can be said for Dale Earnhardt Jr. who gave Keselowski his first big break.
It was fate as Keselowski’s family-owned NASCAR Truck Series team had to shut down its operation due to the financial constraints.
Although the name Keselowski was magic in the Midwest, Brad’s father Bob, uncle Ron and older brother Brian found limited success in NASCAR. The highlight for the family-owned team was Bob Keselowski winning a NASCAR Truck Series race at Richmond in 1997 which Ron Keselowski served as crew chief.
Brad Keselowski got an obvious upgrade in equipment when he signed on with Earnhardt’s team, but it didn’t mean instant success.
Running the second half of the 2007 season with JR Motorsports, Keselowski showed promise, but his performance was erratic. The next season, he won two Nationwide races in the No. 88 Chevrolet, including the August race at Bristol, before winning four races in 2009.
In three years running the Cup Series, Keselowski improved from 25th in the points as a rookie to fifth last year and a champion this season. Most impressive was his performance in the Chase, particularly when Jimmie Johnson turned up the heat with back-to-back wins at Martinsville and Texas.
It was the moment when many expected Keselowski to fold under the pressure. Instead, he moved into the driver’s seat at Phoenix when Johnson blew a tire and slammed into the wall.
At the season finale in Miami, Keselowski finished 15th, good enough to clinch the title even if Johnson had won the race and led the most laps.
It obviously wasn’t that close as mechanical issues sidelined Johnson and Keselowski cruised to the title. You have to believe it won’t be the last title for the young driver, who has scored nine wins and and given a first Cup Series title to one of the sport’s great car owners in just 125 starts.
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Keselowski wasn’t the only big winner on Sunday.
Ironically, the others were Jeff Gordon, who won the season-ending race at Homestead, and Clint Bowyer, who ended as the season’s runner-up.
Of course, those two were combatants at Phoenix one week earlier when Gordon’s intentional wreck of Bowyer in the closing laps caused a brawl among the 24 and 15 teams.
Gordon stayed far enough ahead of Bowyer at Homestead where payback wasn’t an issue. Still, it was a season to remember for the four-time champion highlighted by his charge to make the Chase.
With Homestead marked off the list, Kentucky is the only track on the circuit where Gordon is yet to win. The versatility he has shown throughout his career to win on tracks of all shapes and sizes is just another reason Gordon has to be considered one of the greatest drivers ever.
Bowyer was the darkhorse pick in the Chase, and he lived up to the hype. After spending the previous six seasons with Richard Childress Racing, Bowyer flourished in his first year as the lead driver for Michael Waltrip Racing. He won three races -- Sonoma (road course), Richmond (short track) and Charlotte (intermediate track) -- to show pretty good versatility himself. Now, his challenge is to avoid the recent trend of runner-ups backsliding the next season. It’s happened each of the past five years with Gordon in 2008, Carl Edwards in 2009, Mark Martin in 2010, Denny Hamlin in 2011 and Edwards this season all failing to contend for the championship.
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Open-wheel enthusiasts were excited to see Formula One return to the U.S. at the $400 million Circuit of the Americas near Austin, Texas this past Sunday.
Lewis Hamilton passed Sebastian Vettel for the race win, a landmark victory for Hamilton who won the last U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis in 2007.
However, the season has belonged to Vettel, a 25-year-old German who is on the verge of joining Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher as the only drivers to win three straight F1 championships.
The Red Bull driver holds a 13-point lead over Fernando Alonso heading into this Sunday’s season finale at Brazil.

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