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Keselowski, Penske Take Center Stage In Vegas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 1 2012

Brad Keselowski collected hardware and passed out the praise in Las Vegas on Friday night. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Comparing himself to a Powerball lottery-ticket dreamer, Brad Keselowski says he became a winner the day he signed-on with motorsports mogul Roger Penske and an organization seeking its belated first NASCAR championship.

Bradley Aaron Keselowski delivered Penske Racing its first NASCAR Nationwide Series championship in 2010, an accomplishment eclipsed by “Bad Brad’s” drive to the 2012 Sprint Cup Series title. In doing so, Keselowski ended the longest non-championship streak among current series ownership.

“That’s what life’s about. You have to buy a lot of tickets to be a lottery winner. And I feel like a lottery winner right now,” Keselowski said during the annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards at Wynn Las Vegas Friday night. “And my tickets are guys like (crew chief) Paul Wolfe, Roger Penske – everyone on the No. 2 team. You guys are my lottery tickets and I’m proud to win this lottery with you guys. There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think about that.

“I feel like I get 99 percent of the credit and do one percent of the work. It’s a testament to all the hard work by the people I’m around and share this room with. Without them I’m nothing.”

His voice nearly shot after a whirlwind Champion’s Week of activity in Vegas, Keselowski nevertheless heaped praise upon “The Captain,” Wolfe, engine-builder Scott Carriher and a ballroom full of Penske Racing employees.

“I look back on that first day when I came to Penske Racing and I remember some of the things we talked about –how we’re going to take Penske Racing from being this close to winning a championship to getting it done,” said Keselowski, 28. “And it’s about the people. Roger says it all the time, it’s about these people.

“And it is so rewarding to know that in the time we’ve been at Penske to today, it went from being a place that was

Roger Penske took the podium at a NASCAR banquet for the first time on Friday night. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

a hard sell to get a Paul Wolfe to come to work to being a place where some of the best people in the sport want to come to work. And a lot of that lies on Roger. Thanks for your commitment. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by me and I’m very, very proud to work with you and call you not just my boss but my friend.”

Keselowski clinched with a 15th-place finish in the season-ending Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 18. Keselowski finished 39 points ahead of Clint Bowyer of Michael Waltrip Racing, with five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports rounding out the top three after the 10-race/12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. The top 10 drivers in points all had their moments at the dais during a lavish, four-hour program of Vegas-style entertainment.

But the night was dominated by Penske Racing and Keselowski’s No. 2 “Blue Deuce,” the Miller Lite Dodge Charger. “I know Brad is going to sell a lot of those big glasses full of beer for you this year,” said Penske, noting the sponsor’s 21-year relationship with his organization. “Brad, we’re on it, aren’t we?”

It was a rhetorical question for Penske, who began chasing a Cup championship in 1972 when he fielded an AMC Matador for road-racing ace Mark Donohue at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway. Himself an accomplished road-racer and 15-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 as a car-owner, Penske began the 2012 season with 23 national championships in various motorsports ventures.

With the Cup, he now has 24. “In life, all of us set goals,” said Penske, a 75-year-old native of Shaker Heights, Ohio. “I think one of my goals was to have a great family with my wife (Kathy) and I can say I’ve got five great children and 11 great grandchildren – think about that. That’s goal No. 1.

“Goal No. 2 was to build a world-class company. Today I’ve got thousands of people that helped me build that company, so I want to thank them tonight for their support. So for all those who ask me why it took me so long, I guess it was those two first goals I had to have before I could get up here tonight. That’s my excuse. But believe me, it was well-worth the wait.

“When I step back and think about what’s happened for me tonight, to get in this amazing club – you can’t buy it with money, you don’t get voted-in, you’ve got to earn it. You’ve got to earn it by winning. And for me to think that

"Bad Brad" dumps the clutch on the streets of Las Vegas. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

I’m in a club with Richard Petty, seven-time champion; Richard Childress, I’ve watched you build a dynasty with Dale Earnhardt Sr.; Joe Gibbs, standing on the stage with you when we won the Nationwide championship _ what a thrill – one of the greatest coaches in NFL history. The opportunity for me to work with Jack Roush and the Yates guys next year (with Ford Motor Company), it’s a real thrill, believe me. We’re going to make it Ford One.

“And Tony (Stewart), I know we took your (championship) spot this year. But you’re a car-owner, you and Gene (Haas); you’re a race driver, you’re a track promoter. How about doing the double at Indy this year? You available?

“Again, I want to thank my family, and obviously my wife Kathy of 40 years for putting up with me in this great business for so long. And I guess she was my good luck charm. She was there (on the pit stand) from Chicago on. I remember someone said, ‘Who is that woman sitting down there next to Paul Wolfe?’ They didn’t know it was my wife, but I guess they did after a couple of races. The only thing I don’t know is why I can’t get her to wear a Miller Lite driver’s suit. I’m going to have DeLana (Harvick) call her when we get home over the weekend.”

Keselowski, the winner of five races, said one of his fondest moments from the season was his runnerup finish to Johnson during the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Round 8 of the Chase on Nov. 4.

“I’ll never forget Texas and racing with you, Jimmie,” said Keselowski, who exited Fort Worth trailing Johnson

2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

by seven points. “That was one of the proudest races of my life, to be able to run with you. Seemed like all season long we were racing against each other somewhere around the track and that was just phenomenal. I can’t believe I was racing a five-time champion; you made me earn it. You have a lot to be proud of even though you didn’t win (the championship). But I’ll race with you any day and I loved every second of it.

“Just going back through everything, and it really didn’t hit me how big an achievement it is to win a Sprint Cup title until I saw that (his) banner up there, sitting next to yours, Jimmie. To look at all the names up here tonight, I can’t believe that my name is somewhere near Dale Earnhardt’s. I just can’t believe that. I don’t deserve that. So I feel very, very proud and very honored. For NASCAR (management)…thank you for the opportunity to do this. Each and every one of us owes you the largest debt of gratitude there ever was.

“I know at the end of the day we’re just driving cars in circles, so we’re not doing a lot of miracle-working, but there are some great personalities in this sport, some real charitable acts. You’ve got a lot to be proud of, guys, and I’m glad to race with you guys – and not just race with you but be friends with those that are also champions at life.”

In addition to his five wins, Keselowski posted 13 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes. A third generation driver following in the footsteps of his father, uncle and grandfather, Keselowski saluted parents Bob and Kay seated in the audience. “I want to thank my mom and dad for being here and celebrating this championship,” said Keselowski, who began racing at age 14 in 1998 after working on his family’s race cars. “There’s been good times and there’s been bad times and each moment defines who you are – how you can accept winning with grace and losing with grace as well. I’ve had some great teachers for that. Some of it has been the school of hard knocks, that’s for sure. But it’s been a good ride.”

Both Penske and Keselowski gave shout-outs to Ralph Gilles, president/CEO of the SRT Brand and senior vice president of design at Chrysler Group LLC, for Dodge’s commitment to the team during its lame-duck 2012 season. Penske announced in April he would join the Ford Fusion camp in 2013; Dodge opted to drop out of the sport after failing to hook-up with a competitive Cup organization.

“Tonight is probably very bittersweet for me,” Penske said. “Ten years ago we left Ford and went to Dodge. To think about 10 years later we’ll be moving on to another manufacturer next year, to think about how Dodge redoubled their efforts when they knew what was going to happen in 2012, and for us to give them the opportunity to give them a win is just amazing. And hopefully with this success we’ve had you’ll be back with full guns blazing in NASCAR. Thanks again for your friendship.”

Keselowski, a native of Rochester Hills, Mich., echoed those comments and added, “You know how important Detroit is to me and we want to see Dodge a player in the sport. I think it’s great, just to bring the first Sprint Cup championship home to Michigan…you guys deserve it. You guys find a way to pull through and make racing possible because let’s not forget we have to drive cars, it’s not just us the drivers. It’s the cars, too, and a lot of that comes out of Detroit.

“I’m looking forward to being with Ford…and I think the best is yet to come. I’m going to stay committed to working as hard as we can. I want to promise every one of you guys at Penske Racing that I’m going to do my best to make sure that we can be back up here again and on the stage, I can tell you that right now.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, December 1 2012
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