Roger Penske has earned many championships and important victories in his many years of motorsports competition, but the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship is one that has eluded him until now. Going into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Brad Keselowski holds a commanding 20-point lead and only needs to finish 15th or better to bring home the coveted crown for the powerhouse Penske Racing team.
Although Keselowski’s record in four Sprint Cup races at HMS isn’t stellar – average finish of 20.03 – his achievements in the 2012 edition of the Chase for the Sprint Cup is outstanding – two victories and eight top-10s. And he has a solid hold on first place.
“As I sum it up, he’s earned the respect of the garage area, of the drivers, the crews, the officials and certainly he’s gained a lot of fans. And for me basically it’s been consistency, and I think he’s a great athlete. You’d have to put him right at the top from the standpoint of what he’s been able to accomplish over the last several weeks. It’s his chance on Sunday to get to that top rung. He’s made us a better team.”
Penske also complimented Keselowski’s family for the guidance and support they have provided. The entire Keselowski family will be on hand for Sunday’s finale.
With the lengthy list of accomplished drivers that have driven for Penske, the congenial car owner said Keselowski most closely resembles Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears. “When it was time, Rick could dig down deep and make it happen, and he’s a winner. I’d have to put Brad in that category, which is a pretty special class as far as I am concerned.”
Penske describes himself as a goal-oriented person, one who wants to win at the highest levels of business and motorsports. “There’s no question that winning a NASCAR championship at the elite level is something that everybody in racing wants to accomplish, and we hadn’t done that,” he stated. “And I think we spread ourselves through many different series with great success, but we’ve never quite gotten to the top (of NASCAR). To me, this is about an opportunity.”
Brad’s smart, and I think his windshield is much wider than many of the other drivers.
Penske describes Keselowski as a calculating driver. “Brad’s smart, and I think his windshield is much wider than many of the other drivers. He’s seeing what’s going on, and he’s done it with (crew chief) Paul Wolfe. He’s done it with the team, and he’s a student. He’s a thinking-man’s driver, which is very important in today's sport.”
Keselowski keeps Penske on his toes with his non-stop communications. According to Penske, Keselowski sends him frequent text messages but no tweets. “He’s passionate about the sport, and he wants me to be (more) involved as he has the rest of the team, and I think that we’ve stepped up,” Penske said. “I would have to say that Brad has not only pushed me as an individual, he’s pushed the team in a positive direction, and he’s delivering. He seems to be able to give us that extra push and deliver on race weekends, and that’s what we’re expecting him to do this weekend.”
And Penske can’t wait for the checkered flag to fall on Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 on Sunday, hoping that his team will be celebrating on the victory podium. Said Penske, “To be standing at the end with the American flag in your hand and be the champion is something real special, and we’ve not achieved it yet. I said I was goal oriented, and one of our goals is to win this championship. I kid these guys and say I don’t want to sit down in the front row anymore; I want to be up on the stage so I can see who’s at the party.”
Win or lose Roger Penske is a champion and when he retires, he will be known as one of the most successful car owners ever to complete in the upper echelons of motorsports. And one of the classiest ones, too.