HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Here’s a tweet for Brad Keselowski: NASCAR champion.
Roger Penske must like the sound of that, too.
The kid who stole the show at the season-opening Daytona 500 ended the year under the biggest spotlight of them all Sunday, beating five-time champion Jimmie Johnson to deliver the first Sprint Cup championship to Penske Racing.
It’s a trophy that had eluded Penske since he first entered NASCAR in 1972. Although his motorsports organization is considered the gold standard of IndyCar racing — 15 Indianapolis 500 wins — and his empire has made Penske one of the most successful businessmen in America, his NASCAR team operation was always just average.
Then came Keselowski, the blue collar, Twitter-loving, Michigan native who convinced “The Captain” his NASCAR team could be a winner, too.
Three years later, they hoisted the Sprint Cup trophy together at Homestead-Miami Speedway following Keselowski’s 15th-place finish Sunday night.
He started the race up 20 points on Johnson, who blew a tire and crashed last week at Phoenix to give Keselowski a nice cushion and needing only to finish 15th or higher in the finale to wrap up his first championship. But the Penske team took nothing for granted — not after Will Power crashed in the IndyCar finale to blow a 17-point lead and lose the championship.
And this one got tight, too, especially when Keselowski ran out of gas on pit road during green flag pit stops. It put him a lap down with Johnson leading, and Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe frantically trying to figure out how dire the situation had become.
Wolfe crunched the numbers, figuring the No. 2 Dodge would cycle out in the mid-20s, a lap down from the leaders.
“I know the scenario, and it’s not good,” Keselowski said.
But minutes later, Johnson went to pit road for his own stop and pulled away with a missing lug nut. NASCAR flagged the Hendrick Motorsports team and Johnson was forced back to pit road for another stop.
The Penske team was unsure if Keselowski wanted to know what was going on with Johnson.
“I’ve got a big picture story if you want to hear it,” a team member radioed, then informed Keselowski that Johnson had to pit again.
“Ten-four. Thank you for telling me. We’re back in the game. I got it,” he said.
It got worse for Johnson from there. He broke a rear end gear in his Chevrolet and went to the garage with 40 laps to go, essentially clinching the championship for Keselowski.
“It all unraveled pretty quick,” Johnson conceded.
No longer needing to save fuel, and no longer needing to play it conservatively, he waived off Wolfe’s playbook.
“If he’s in the garage, let’s race,” Keselowski said.