Its official. Brad Keselowski has taken Dodge and Penske Racing to the pinnacle of the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Keselowski was officially crowned the 2010 Nationwide champion following Saturdays 300-mile season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Its the first title in the division for Dodge and seventh overall in the three NASCAR national series. For Penske Racing, its the first NASCAR title in the teams history.
It’s been a long ride to get here, Keselowski said. Its been a good ride, a lot of fun. It’s pretty amazing. To not having a job in this sport just a few years back and thinking that Id have to get a real job to being out here and winning the championship, its amazing. Hopefully, we can carry this success to the Cup side.”
Keselowski clinched the title two races ago at Texas, but NASCAR delays all championship celebrations until the final race weekend of the season.
It feels really good, he said. Obviously, for us, that meant we could come here and just take a gamble to win, and we did that. We took a pretty large gamble to win towards the end. It didn’t quite pay off, but it felt good that we knew at the end of the day, we didn’t leave anything on the table. For that, I’m very proud.
Throughout the year, I think if you look at the way we’ve raced, we haven’t raced in a championship mode for the most part. We’ve raced in a let’s go for win mode. We took gambles at tracks like Atlanta and so forth. Those were gambles to win the race. We probably lost some spots because of that, but we’re all about doing what we can to win races. We kept that up and got even more aggressive with it here tonight.
Keselowski finished third in the No. 22 Discount Tire Dodge Charger for his 26th top-five of the 35-race season, a Nationwide Series record for top fives. He visited victory lane six times and had only six finishes outside the top 10. He completed every lap during the season except one.
Its amazing to think that weve raced so many times here and won races in open wheel, but to come back here and this be the site for the championship is unbelievable, said car owner Roger Penske. When you think just a year ago, when we decided to put this team together and Paul (Wolfe, crew chief) and Brad agreed to come on board, we said lets build something from the ground, a whole new team. Thats whats weve done this year. When you think about what Dodge went through, bankruptcy, and said stay with us, dont leave us, and today you see Detroit and whats happened. Were so proud of representing that mark through the season. Seven wins in this series and a number of poles. Of course for Brad, a Michigan guy, I think that we brought this whole thing back to Michigan. Thats pretty important to us and the state. For me, its a real thrill. This goes down as something that Ive tried so hard with on the Cup side and certainly this will be a preamble to whats going to come in the future.
Four Dodge teams from Penske Racing competed in the race. All four spent time in the top 10, but late-race cautions played into the hands of teams with fresh tires and shuffled Keselowskis teammates back in the closing laps. Justin Allgaier, competing in the No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge for the last time before moving to another team in 2011, finished 11th. Parker Kligerman was close behind in 13th while Sam Hornish Jr., making his first Nationwide Series start since 2008, finished 21st.
Allgaier was involved in a four-car mishap on lap 30 that required an unscheduled pit stop for repairs, but the No. 12 crew had the Dodge back on the track without losing a lap. Pit strategy had the No. 12 back in the top 10 by the halfway mark and as high as fourth with 16 laps remaining.
It was a bit of a frustrating night, said Allgaier. We got put in the fence early in the day and had to come back from it. I felt that we did a good job in the pits and out on the race track making spots up. We may have pitted too early there at the end. Its such a tough call and we knew that we needed to take tires and we pitted. Sure enough, it got us to the front, but it wasnt enough at the end. It was a solid 11th-place finish. Ive got to thank all the Verizon Wireless Dodge guys at the track and at the shop. Its been an awesome few years at Penske Racing and Im very thankful for the opportunity to race for them.
Kligerman ran as high as ninth on several occasions. Our No. 42 Bandit Chippers Dodge Charger was really good tonight, he said. This was the first Nationwide race that Ive started up front, ran top 10 the whole race and had awesome pit stops up until the second to last stop where we dropped a lug nut. That dropped us back. For a small team like this to run with the big dogs is great. We know that were fighting above our weight. They (the crew) did a great job all night long.
Hornish ran in the top 20 throughout most of the race and was as high as eighth with just 30 laps to go, but he was no match for those teams with new tires for the last 50 miles.
We got caught on old tires late in the race and lost some spots to finish 21st, said Hornish. We ran inside the top 15 most of the race and in the top 10 part of the night. We just didnt have anything to run with the leaders at the end of the race.
NASCAR Nationwide Series
1. Kyle Busch
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Brad Keselowski
4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
5. Trevor Bayne
6. Carl Edwards
7. Joey Logano
8. Brendan Gaughan
9. Paul Menard
10. Jason Leffler
11. Justin Allgaier
13. Parker Kligerman
21. Sam Hornish Jr.
Series Point Standings
(After 35 of 35 Races)
1. Brad Keselowski 5639
2. Carl Edwards -445
3. Kyle Busch -705
4. Justin Allgaier -960
5. Paul Menard -1,172
6. Kevin Harvick -1,250
7. Trevor Bayne -1,598
8. Joey Logano -1,601
9. Jason Leffler -1,698
10. Steve Wallace -1,699