At Homestead

Gordon wins finale, but Keselowski claims Sprint Cup championship

Mechanical issues park Johnson’s title hopes as Gordon wins race; Penske gets first Sprint Cup championship

jutter@charlotteobserver.comNovember 19, 2012 

APTOPIX NASCAR Homestead Auto Racing

Brad Keselowski hugs owner Roger Penske after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship following an auto race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012, in Homestead, Fla. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

TERRY RENNA — AP

— Brad Keselowski is your 2012 Sprint Cup Series and social media champion.

And in case there was any doubt, he bounced into the media center long after Sunday’s Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, his driver suit soaked in beer – from his sponsor Miller Lite, of course – his cell phone in one hand and an oversized bottle of victory champagne in the other.

Before he could sit down on stage, his team owner, Roger Penske, blurted out, “Did you bring your Tweeter?”

This will not be your father’s NASCAR champion.

Brash, outspoken, a constant presence on Twitter, Keselowski became just the second driver in NASCAR history to win both a Nationwide and Sprint Cup championship. Bobby Labonte is the other.

Keselowski’s 15th place finish in Sunday’s race secured his first series title but was also aided by his closest competitor, Jimmie Johnson, sitting in the garage with mechanical problems as the race ended.

The race victory went to Jeff Gordon but the biggest prize was reserved for Keselowski, who tweeted a photo from inside his car before celebrating in Victory Lane.

“It feels really good. I can’t believe how everything just came together over the last – what’s it been, three years?” Keselowski said to his crew chief, Paul Wolfe.

“I just feel so fortunate to be where I’m at right now in life and with racing, to have guys like (Penske and Wolfe) around me because you’re a product of who you surround yourself by, and I’m surrounded by the best.”

Keselowski entered Sunday’s race with a 20-point advantage over Johnson and needed to finish 15th or better to clinch the title, regardless of Johnson’s performance.

It appeared for a while Keselowski needed every bit of his cushion.

Johnson had a fast car, and he and crew chief Chad Knaus had a fuel strategy that could have potentially paid big dividends at the finish.

Johnson, however, wouldn’t get there. During a round of green-flag pit stops he was forced to make a second stop because of a missing lugnut. Then, with around 40 laps remaining, smoke filled his car and a broken driveline sent him to the garage.

As Gordon stretched his fuel to claim the victory, Keselowski was forced to pit for gas, but he had already clinched the championship.

“I was stressed out over that yellow flag cycle at the end because obviously the right call there was probably to pit, but that’s not the way it played out for us,” Keselowski said.

“I’m so thankful that we drove back to 15th so that I don’t have to hear for the rest of my life about how if (Johnson) had not had them problems, he’d have won the championship.”

Keselowski’s championship came in his 125th start, the fewest since Gordon captured his first of four titles in 1995 in 93 starts. At 28, Keselowski is the eighth-youngest to win a first championship.

He finished the season with five wins – including two in the Chase – and 13 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes in 36 races. His 6.3 average finish in the Chase was identical to last year’s champion, Tony Stewart.

The title is also the first for Penske, an icon in open-wheel racing whose teams have won 15 Indianapolis 500s and 12 Indy car championships.

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