NASCAR SPRINT CUP
Keselowski claims first Sprint Cup title
Brad Keselowski won his first Sprint Cup championship in Florida on Sunday. (REUTERS)
It wasn’t the way Brad Keselowski dreamed that he would win a first NASCAR Sprint Cup championship for legendary team owner Roger Penske.
He crossed the finish line in the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge with rival Jimmie Johnson sitting in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in the garage with broken gear box.
Keselowski would have preferred beating five-time champion Johnson head-to-head on the 1.5-mile Homestead Miami Speedway, but he’ll certainly take the championship that comes to him after just three full seasons in the world’s best stock car racing series.
The victory came as a direct result of a series of disasters by Johnson’s team who missed a lug nut on a pit stop with just 43 laps left in the Ford EcoBoost 400 and then suffered a gear box failure.
All of this happened just as Johnson looked like he had overcome Keselowski’s 20-point advantage when he took over the lead of the race with the No. 2 Dodge back in 21st place as a result of running out of fuel on a late green flag run.
In a flash, however, Johnson’s day and championship hopes were lost when the left rear tire changer missed a lug nut, forcing the No. 48 Chevrolet to come back down pit lane.
Just five laps later, his gear box exploded, handing the Sprint Cup trophy to the 28-year-old Keselowski and the 75-year-old Penske.
Keselowski said he was going to celebrate as if he had won it in a door-to-door battle because Johnson’s bad luck could have fell on his team.
“There is always going to be that pit spot that doesn’t work,” he said of Johnson’s woes. “There is always going to be that track position that doesn’t work right, a flat tire, you name it. There is going to be adversity in this sport. That is how racing works.
“But my team does not give up; we don’t surrender and like Winston Churchill said: ‘Never, never, ever give up.’”
Keselowski, taking big swigs of his sponsor Miller Lite in Victory Lane, said while the enormity of what he has accomplished really has not sunk in, he was enjoying the moment.
“It’s been one hell of a day,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Keselowski admitted that his career in NASCAR did start with a chip on his shoulder, with many top drivers — most notably Carl Edwards — extremely critical of his take-no-prisoners style of racing.
“I am not a big guy and I am not the strongest guy,” he said on Sunday night. “There have been moments when I wasn’t the fastest guy; I will be the first gut to admit it.
“But you know what, I have heard that all my life and I fought through it and it has given me the fuel, the fire to work hard and be smarter to find a way to win.”
Keselowski said it was coming to the Penske organization that made him realize he wasn’t in the sport alone; that he now had a team behind him to help bury his insecurities
“I was able to tune that out and as life went gone on I realized that nobody’s perfect, but when you work together with your team you find a way to be successful,” he said. “Life is a team sport.”
As for Johnson, he was clearly crushed at the loss, not of the race, but of his quest of a sixth championship in the past seven seasons.
He said earlier in the week he spoke of one day winning eight titles that would propel him past NASCAR twin towers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, who each have seven championships.
Johnson said just before the fateful pit stop on lap 224 he thought he had win No. 6 in his pocket.
“We were in position to put pressure on Brad,” he said. “It unravelled pretty quick.”
Johnson said even after the lug nut mishap there was still some hope.
“(Crew chief) Chad (Knaus) had some optimism, but I ran a handful of laps after that when I started to smell the oil,” he said. “Definitely disappointing ... we had 80% of what we needed.”
Keselowski win was also the crowning achievement for Penske, who has battled for 40 years in NASCAR without a championship at the Cup level.
On Sunday his dream was accomplished.
“For me it’s been a lifelong goal,” he said. “When you think about Hendrick and Johnson and Earnhardt and Childress ... all the guys that have been up there, and we’ve been close but we’ve never delivered. Until today.”
NASCAR SPRINT CUP
Hendrick Motorsports had expectations of winning both the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship with Jimmie Johnson and the Ford EcoBoost 400 on Sunday at Homestead Miami Speedway.
In the end, it was Jeff Gordon who would win the race in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with Johnson in the garage with a broken gear box on the No. 48 HMS Chevrolet.
Brad Keselowski, who finished the race in 21st position in the No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge, took the championship.
It was a fuel strategy that Johnson had hoped would take him to the winner’s circle that gave Gordon the victory.
Gordon finished just 1.028 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer in the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, who he had battled both on and off the track last week at Phoenix.
Ryan Newman finished third in the No. 39 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet, with Kyle Busch in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and Greg Biffle in the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.
Lewis Hamilton chased down two-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in the final laps of the return of Formula 1 racing to the U.S. on Sunday to claim victory for his McLaren Mercedes team at Circuit of the America in Austin, Tex.
More than 100,00 fans make the trek to the brand new circuit for first F-1 race on U.S. since the series left Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2007.
Coincidentally Hamilton won that race as well.
Fernando Alonso finished third after starting ninth, but it wasn’t enough to erase Vettel’s championship lead
Vettel takes a 13-point lead over Alonso into next weekend’s finale at Interlagos.