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The Captain On Verge Of Victory

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 4 2010

Roger Penske is about to win his first NASCAR championship. (File photo courtesy of NASCAR)

There’s an old saying that good things come to he who waits. Well, Roger Penske has waited and waited and waited for a NASCAR championship.

Twenty-seven years The Captain has waited. But, thanks to Brad Keselowski, it appears the wait is over.

Keselowski goes into Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Texas with an insurmountable 485-point lead over Carl Edwards. All Keselowski has to do to give the 72-year-old Penske his first stock car championship is start each of the last three races. But he can get the celebration started considerably earlier by finishing 21st or better in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge.

It’s actually a bit shocking that Penske, whose teams have won 22 national titles including 12 in Indy cars, as well as 15 Indianapolis 500s, is on the cusp of getting his first NASCAR championship trophy.

Rusty Wallace came closest in 1993 when he finished second – 80 points behind Dale Earnhardt – in the Sprint Cup championship.

But everything has come slowly to Penske in NASCAR.

Penske Racing has been fielding cars in NASCAR since 1972; full-time since 1991. And Penske’s drivers have won 64 Cup races. But he didn’t win the crown jewel of NASCAR, the Daytona 500, until Ryan Newman pulled it off in 2008.

He and Chip Ganassi, who also was successful in open-wheel before arriving in NASCAR, are the only owners to have won both the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500.

Now, finally, Penske is going to be able to celebrate a NASCAR title.

Penske said winning the Nationwide championship was a goal he and Keselowski talked about when he hired the young driver.

“When we put this thing together, got Brad and (crew chief) Paul Wolfe together, we had a pretty good idea that this could be successful. It’s about building chemistry within the team and then building on the success you have.’’

“It’s pretty exciting for everyone at Penske and Dodge,” Keselowski,said.

The driver, in his fifth season in Nationwide, goes into Saturday’s race with six wins and has led the points almost the entire season.

“What an amazing year this has been,’’ Keselowski said. “It’s a really cool feeling. Ever since my family has been racing – going all the way back to the NASCAR Truck days – nobody in our family has been leading the points.

“Personally, it’s very gratifying. It’s been a lot of hard work to get to this point, but we know there’s a lot of work left to do.”

History shows Keselowski has a very chance of getting it done this week. In eight starts at Texas Motor Speedway, he has five top-10s, including two top-fives and a best finish of third in 2009.

“It would be a special moment for Roger and for me,” Keselowski said. “Roger means a lot to everybody in the racing community, inside and outside NASCAR. He’s won in Formula One, He’s won in the IRL, won the Indy 500. But he doesn’t have that NASCAR championship.

“I want to be the guy to give it to him.’’

That’s pretty much a sure thing now, and Penske is hopeful that the Nationwide championship is only a preview of bigger things to come in Cup.

“Hopefully, it will be something we can build on at the next level,” he said.

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 4 2010
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