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Keselowski clinches first championship

November 21, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com



Keselowski clinches first championship
Gordon wins at Homestead; Mistakes doom Johnson's title chances

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- The fuel strategy that was supposed to carry Jimmie Johnson to a sixth championship instead made a winner of his teammate, Jeff Gordon, who triumphed in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway as Brad Keselowski locked up the Sprint Cup title.

Gordon crossed the finish line 1.028 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer, his nemesis from a week ago at Phoenix, as Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet sat forlorn in the garage, Johnson's title hopes the victim of a pit road mistake and a rare part failure.

Ryan Newman ran third, followed by Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle.

* Video: Final Laps | Victory Lane | Post-Race Reactions

Keselowski finished 15th, a lap down, but Johnson's difficulties took the suspense out of the title fight in the closing laps of the race. Johnson entered the season finale 20 points behind Keselowski, but his 36th-place result cost him second place in the final standings.

The Cup championship was the first for team owner Roger Penske, and the first since 1975 for car maker Dodge, which is leaving Cup racing at the end of the season.

* Video: Penske reacts to winning first Cup Series title

"It means the world -- it really does," Keselowski said. "I've got the best team in racing, and I'm just so thrilled to be a part of it. From the top down, Roger Penske, [crew chief] Paul Wolfe, everybody else, the crew guys and my family -- that means so much.""

Bowyer passed Johnson for the second spot in the standings, 39 points behind the first-time champion. Johnson held third, 40 points back; in 11 full seasons of Cup racing, Johnson never has finished lower than sixth.

* Video: Keselowski crowned as 2012 Cup Series champion

Gordon made some history of his own. He won for the second time this year and the 87th time in his career, most among active drivers and third-most all-time behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105). The victory was Gordon's first at Homestead and the first for Hendrick Motorsports.

"This is just huge," said Gordon, who wrecked Bowyer in retaliation last Sunday at Phoenix and drew a $100,000 fine and 25-point penalty for his actions. "Man, it's been an emotional week and a hard one -- one of the hardest ones I've ever gone through, just looking back on my decision.

"What an unbelievable week. There were so many ups and downs this week, and to be able to end in Victory Lane with just an awesome team effort was just awesome... This is the way you want to win a race, by just going to battle with them and having a good race car and playing it all out really smart."

* Video: Troubles for both Keselowski and Johnson

Aggressive pit strategy put Johnson in position to challenge for the title, but the race fell apart for the 48 team after the 200-lap mark.

Able to finish the race on one pit stop to Keselowski's two, Johnson brought the No. 48 Chevrolet to pit road on Lap 214. Johnson, however, pulled away from his stall with a loose lug nut, and NASCAR mandated another stop to correct the error.

The coup de grace came on Lap 226, when Johnson returned to pit road with the drive line problem. The No. 48 crew pushed the car to the garage, where it sat for the rest of the race.

* Video: Johnson's championship hopes vanish with drive line issues

"Yeah, we were in position and putting the pressure on the 2 car [Keselowski] like we needed to," Johnson said ruefully. "I said at the beginning of the week, 15th isn't a lay?up, and I certainly had him in position.

"He made it really interesting here at the end of this thing. If we could have not had the mistake on pit road and then the gear failure at the end. Didn't really catch exactly what happened, but I know there was oil under the back of the car."

Keselowski, who didn't cover Johnson's move when the No. 48 topped off the fuel tank on Lap 158, knew he had dodged a bullet.

* Press Pass: Jeff Gordon | Clint Bowyer | Ryan Newman

Notes-n-Nuggets

• Jeff Gordon earned his 87th NSCS win in his 689th start.
• Jeff Gordon's last victory was at Pocono in August 2012 (seven starts ago).
• Jeff Gordon won for the second time in 2012.
• Jeff Gordon picked up his first victory at Homestead in his 14th start.
• The only active track Jeff Gordon is still winless on is Kentucky (he has only made two starts there).
• Jeff Gordon has now won on 24 tracks in his NSCS career.
• Jeff Gordon garnered his fourth Chase triumph and first since 2007 at Martinsville.
• Jeff Gordon earned his 16th 1.5-mile track win, ranking second to Johnson who has 17.
• Jeff Gordon led twice for 14 laps, including the final 13.
• Jeff Gordon went the last 53 laps on a single tank of fuel to win the fuel-mileage race.
• Hendrick Motorsports captured its 209th NSCS win.
• Hendrick Motorsports was victorious for the 10th time in 2012, most of all teams.
• Hendrick Motorsports won for the first time at Homestead; only winless track is at Kentucky.
• Hendrick Motorsports earned its 29th career Chase win.
• Chevrolet garnered its 15th win of 2012 and won for the third time at Homestead.
• Clint Bowyer (second) finished the season a career-best second in points, only one point ahead of Jimmie Johnson in third; best Homestead finish in his sixth race leaves him with three wins, 10 top-five finishes and 23 top-10 finishes in 2012 (wins, top-fives and top-10s are all a career-most in a season).
• Ryan Newman (third) had his best Homestead finish in his 11th race; finished 14th in points with one win, six top-fives and 14 top-10 finishes.
• Kyle Busch (fourth) led six times for 191 laps, the most of all drivers, but failed to win for the ninth consecutive time after leading the most laps; missed the Chase by one point but led all drivers with seven top-five finishes; the first time a non-chaser had the most top-fives in the Chase.
• Greg Biffle (fifth) started at the rear in a back-up car; finished the season fifth in points with two wins, 12 top-five finishes and 21 top-10 finishes.
• Martin Truex Jr. (sixth) finished 11th in final standings, matching a career best; finished 2012 with seven top-five finishes and 19 top-10 finishes, top-fives matched his season most and top-10s were a new season most.
• Aric Almirola (seventh) finished in the top-10 in four races this season, including two in the last four races.
• Kurt Busch (ninth) finished in the top-10 in the final three races of the season, the longest streak ever for Furniture Row Racing.
• Brad Keseslowski (15th) 2012 NSCS Champion in his third full-time season; finished 2012 with five wins, 13 top-five finishes and 23 top-10 finishes.
• Jimmie Johnson (36th) worst finish of the 2012 Chase left him third in points with five wins, 18 top-five finishes and 24 top-10 finishes.

Championship Notes-n-Nuggets

• Brad Keselowski becomes the first driver from the state of Michigan to win the Cup Series championship.
• Brad Keselowski is the 29th different driver to win the NSCS Championship in the 64th season.
• Brad Keselowski is the fourth driver to win the NSCS Championship during the Chase format.
• Brad Keselowski is the second driver to win the NSCS Championship in the No. 2 car, Dale Earnhardt won in 1980 driving the #2.
• Brad Keselowski's first NSCS championship comes in his third full-time season; sixth driver to win his first NSCS Championship within first three full-time seasons and only the third in the modern-era (1972-2012).
• Brad Keselowski's previous best championship finish was fifth last season.
• Brad Keselowski's first championship comes in just 125 career starts (includes Homestead).
• Brad Keselowski led the point standings for the first time following Chicagoland in September 2012 (the first Chase race); led the standings following seven races this season (including Homestead).
• Brad Keselowski was the 2010 Nationwide Series champion, joins Bobby Labonte as only the second driver to win a championship in both the NNS and the NSCS.
• Crew Chief Paul Wolfe got his first Cup Series championship; he won his first Nationwide championship as a crew chief in 2010 with Brad Keselowski.
• Brad Keselowski and Paul Wolfe are the only driver-crew chief combination to win championships in both the NNS and the NSCS.
• Gave Penske Racing their first NSCS championship in its 23rd full-time season (more than 20 races).
• Penske Racing made its first NSCS start in 1972 with Mark Donohue; it ran one full-time season in 1976 with Bobby Allison before going full-time in 1991 with Rusty Wallace.
• Gave Dodge their fifth NSCS Championship and first since 1975 when Richard Petty won his sixth title.

"He was going to win this race, and I know that," Keselowski said. "We were not as fast as we wanted to be, and we'd be the first to admit that, but my guys never gave up. We kept working, and at the end there we were even capable of getting back up enough to where it wouldn't have mattered if he'd have won -- which made me feel a lot better."