NASCAR Championship Is First for Penske Racing
In a bittersweet ending to the 2012 NASCAR season, Brad Keselowski drove a Dodge Charger to his first-ever Sprint Cup championship this past Sunday, marking Dodge’s first title since 1975, when Richard Petty captured crown No. 6—also in a Charger. But while Keselowski’s efforts brought Dodge a sixth championship of its own—and, surprisingly, just the first in NASCAR’s top division for the Penske Racing Team—they also heralded the end of the brand’s participation in the series. Beginning with the next motorsports season, the Chrysler Group will turn its racing support toward the SRT Viper’s campaign in the American Le Man Series’ GT Class, among others.
Still, Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of the SRT brand and the Chrysler Group’s Motorsports program, had nothing but praise for Dodge’s NASCAR finale: “It’s an amazing accomplishment for everyone. Obviously, this project wasn’t one that started yesterday. A lot of talented people have spent countless hours to make this championship possible. That’s the Dodge way. It’s always been the Dodge way.”
“I’ve got the best team in racing, and I’m just so thrilled to be part of it,” added Keselowski. “They made incredible sacrifices, and I’m just so fortunate to have them around me. I couldn’t do it without the support of everyone on the Miller Lite Dodge.”
In just his third full season in the Sprint Cup series, Keselowski has quickly established himself among the top drivers on the NASCAR circuit. How quickly? It took the 28-year-old racer a mere 125 Sprint Cup starts to win the championship, the fewest since Jeff Gordon won in 1995 (with 93 races under his belt). It’s also worth pointing out that while this might have been Keselowski’s first Sprint Cup title, it wasn’t his first NASCAR championship: he also was the Nationwide champ in 2010 and is now just the second driver to ever win both Sprint Cup and Nationwide titles, along with Bobby Labonte.
This year, Keselowski got off to a strong start by winning the Food City 500—the fourth race of the season—back in March, and he steadily ascended the driver rankings from that point on. After winning the Quaker State 400 in June, Keselowski had climbed into the Sprint Cup top 10, and he entered NASCAR’s 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup “playoffs” in the first position overall.
The Chase then saw a highly competitive, back-and-forth battle between Keselowski and multi-time Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson, in which the former was in and out of the lead three different times over the final 10 events. In fact, this year’s Sprint Cup title wasn’t decided until Johnson had to retire from the EcoBoost 400 for mechanical reasons—and after he had taken over the points lead from Keselowski by a slim margin. It was only after Johnson left the race that Keselowski was able to relax a bit and coast to the Sprint Cup title with a 15th place finish in the final race of the season.
The bottom line for Keselowski and the Dodge Charger in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season: five wins, 13 top-five finishes, 23 top-10 finishes—and one Sprint Cup championship.