Brad Keselowski has a chance to etch his name into the NASCAR record books this weekend. But he wouldn’t be the only one joining the elite ranks of NASCAR champions. Keselowski carries a 20-point lead over Jimmie Johnson into the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend. If he holds off Johnson, the 28-year-old will make history in many ways. Here’s a look at the impact a Keselowski championship would have.
Out with a bang
Manufacturer Dodge has already announced plans to exit the Sprint Cup Series at season’s end. How crazy would it to be for them to do so with a championship? Dodge last won a title with Richard Petty in 1975. Now, Keselowski and his Penske Racing team – the lone Dodge group in the garage – could give the group one stunning going-away present.
Changing of the guard
In recent years, it’s been a series of previous champions dominating the sport. Johnson won his first title in 2006, the most recent first-time champ – and then went on to win five in a row. Tony Stewart is the defending champion after adding to his tally of titles. Kurt Busch won his lone title in 2004, Matt Kenseth in 2003. But for the most part, the recent past has been dominated by men like Johnson, Stewart and four-time champion Jeff Gordon. Keselowski has seemingly come out of nowhere to overcome these men one by one. Now only Johnson could block his path to the title. Would a Keselowski championship signal a changing of the guard in the sport?
Keselowski isn’t the only newcomer to the title race. Most of his team would also join him in celebrating a debut Cup title, including crew chief Paul Wolfe (far left). The two have showcased the mold of uniting with a crew chief in one series and then carrying that relationship to a new level. Wolfe won the Nationwide title with Keselowski, then took him to a fifth-place finish in the Chase in 2011. Now, the driver-turned-crew-chief could win the ultimate prize.
Keselowski has brought a new approach to racing to his fans. Embracing social networking from the start, he ignited a new world to racing when he tweeted photos during the red flag period in the Daytona 500. His Twitter following exploded overnight – and he showed how a new generation of fans and drivers are relating to fans. He’s certainly not the only driver to recognize the lesson, but he was one of the earliest to really embrace the phenomenon and show his true personality there. He’s outspoken, honest and forthright in his comments, unafraid to shy from controversy or confrontation. Whether one thinks that is good or bad, he’s certainly taken it to a new level among current racers.
Keselowski certainly took the fast track to his attempt at the crown. Although he began running a limited schedule in the Camping World Truck Series in 2004, it’s only in the last few years that he’s been a regular competitor. In 2007, he began full-time Nationwide Series competition driving for JR Motorsports. Then he moved to Penske Racing, where he is in his third full season of Cup competition. He enters the weekend with 124 Cup starts. He has nine wins with 43 top-10 finishes, 24 of them top fives. Still, he has already earned $18.5 million in Cup purses. It’s definitely been a fast track for the driver who could be called champ in just a few days.
Team owner Roger Penske (pictured) first competed in what is now the Sprint Cup series in 1972 with Mark Donohue driving for him at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway. Since then, he’s enjoyed a string of successful outings in the Cup ranks, but has yet to win a title. He won rookie of the year with Ryan Newman in 2002. He’s made the Chase for the Sprint Cup on multiple occasions. Rusty Wallace won 10 races driving for him in 1993. Keselowski won the Nationwide title in 2010. But the man who has 15 Indianapolis 500 victories and entered this year with 23 national championships across multiple series has yet to hoist the Sprint Cup. After a host of high-profile drivers, including Hall of Fame inductee Wallace, have driven his car, it could be Keselowski who finally hands him NASCAR’s top prize.