NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

 
    === Keselowski, Penske capture first Sprint Cup Series championship ===
 
 Homestead,  FL  (Sports Network)  -  Jeff  Gordon  won  the battle,  but  Brad
 Keselowski won the war on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
 
 Keselowski  claimed his  first NASCAR  Sprint Cup  Series championship  with a
 15th-place  finish  in the season-ending  Ford EcoBoost 400, while Jeff Gordon
 picked  up his second win of the year by capitalizing on fuel strategy late in
 the race and then holding off Clint Bowyer in the closing laps.
 
 In  a race  that ran  relatively uneventful  for the  first 300  miles, Jimmie
 Johnson,  who was  the only eligible contender other than Keselowski remaining
 in the title hunt, held the lead when Keselowski ran out of gas just before he
 was pitting on lap 206. He coasted onto pit road and refueled before returning
 to  the track  in 24th. At that  time, Johnson had taken over the points lead.
 The  five-time  series champion  entered  the  season-finale with  a  20-point
 deficit.
 
 But Johnson's attempt for a sixth series title turned for the worse on lap 213
 when  he exited his pit stall with a missing lug nut on his left-rear tire. He
 had  to pit again  and fell one lap behind. Then his championship hopes really
 went  up  in smoke 40 laps  short of the finish  when he had his rear-end gear
 burn  up  on his Chevrolet,  which put  him out of  the race. Johnson ended up
 finishing 36th.
 
 "(Johnson)  is the best,"  Keselowski said. "He said the other day that he was
 going  to win this damn  race. We were not as fast as we wanted to be. I'll be
 the  first to  admit that. But my guys  never gave up. We kept working, and at
 the  end there, we were capable of getting back up enough to where it wouldn't
 have mattered if he won, which made me feel a lot better."
 
 Keselowski  ended  the year 39 points  ahead of Bowyer, while Johnson's season
 concluded 40 points short.
 
 "It's  pretty  heartbreaking," Johnson said. "We  were doing what we needed to
 do,  and we were  certainly in position to put a lot of pressure on that 2 car
 (Keselowski), but that's racing. Stuff happens. It was out of my control."
 
 Keselowski  gave  team owner Roger Penske  his first title in NASCAR's premier
 series.  He also  delivered  Dodge  a huge  going-away  present,  as the  auto
 manufacturer  bid farewell  to NASCAR competition. Keselowski became the first
 Dodge driver to win a championship since Richard Petty last did it in 1975.
 
 At  age 28,  Keselowski concluded  his third  full season  driving for  Penske
 Racing  in  Sprint Cup.  Keselowski's 2010  Nationwide Series championship was
 Penske's maiden title in a NASCAR national touring circuit.
 
 "This isn't a one-man effort," said Keselowski, who scored five race wins this
 season,  including  two in the  Chase. "I might get  the glory, but it's about
 these  guys (No.  2 Penske Racing team),  and it's about my family. I use this
 saying all the time that, 'Life is a team sport.' I'm just very proud and very
 happy  for everyone of  the people that is a part of my team. I feel like I've
 got the best team in the world around me."
 
 Keselowski  joined Bobby Labonte as the only drivers who have won a Sprint Cup
 and  Nationwide championship.  Keselowski's Cup title came in his 125th start,
 which  is the  fewest since Gordon captured his first of four championships in
 1995. Gordon did it in 93 starts.
 
 Penske,  who has  15 victories in the  Indianapolis 500 as a team owner in the
 IndyCar  Series,  has been fielding cars  in NASCAR's top racing circuit since
 1972.  It  ended the longest  non-championship streak among current ownership.
 Penske's previous best points finish was second with Rusty Wallace in 1993
 
 "This  is  the top of the  mark right now," Penske  said. "When Brad and I got
 together  three years ago,  we talked about a plan that we executed. This race
 shop  team is outstanding,  and I want to thank Dodge for what they have done.
 This guy, Keselowski, is something special."
 
 Penske won the Daytona 500 for the first time in 2008 with driver Ryan Newman.
 
 Earlier  this year, Penske announced that his racing organization is switching
 to Fords for its Sprint Cup and Nationwide teams in 2013. It ultimately led to
 Dodge's  decision to exit the sport. Penske was the only full-time team in Cup
 fielding Dodges.
 
 Gordon's  win came  one  week after  he intentionally  wrecked  Bowyer in  the
 penultimate  Chase  race at Phoenix.  Joey Logano  and Aric Almirola were also
 involved  in the  wreck. Gordon  avoided  being suspended  for Homestead,  but
 NASCAR  did penalize  him with a fine of  $100,000 and a loss of 25 points for
 his  altercation with Bowyer. Their crash late in the race at Phoenix led to a
 brawl between Gordon and Bowyer's teams in the garage area.
 
 "Can  you believe that?"  Gordon said. "There was one restart where I had Joey
 and  maybe even Aric and Clint right there surrounding me. That thing is going
 to  work itself  out someway through racing.  I feel terrible about how I went
 about  it,  and I still  regret the way  I went about it.  But I can't take it
 back.  What  we can do is  look forward and race  guys as hard and clean as we
 possibly can."
 
 Gordon  gambled on fuel  in the late going and then took the lead with 13 laps
 remaining  before beating  Bowyer to  the finish  line by  one second.  Gordon
 notched  his 87th  career victory. It was  also the first win for him and team
 owner Rick Hendrick at this 1.5-mile racetrack in South Florida.
 
 "I  knew we  had a great race car  going into the race, and at times, I didn't
 think  we  had a  winning car,  but we played  the strategy perfectly," Gordon
 said.  "After  last week and to  come here and battle  like this and end up in
 victory lane is just unreal. It's a great way for us to end this season."
 
 Gordon  has  won at  every track on  the current Sprint  Cup schedule with the
 exception  of  Kentucky, which has  hosted a series  race just twice (2011 and
 '12).
 
 Ryan  Newman finished  third,  while Kyle  Busch took  the  fourth spot  after
 leading  191  of 267  laps. Busch  finished second in  both the Nationwide and
 Camping World Truck Series races at Homestead this weekend.
 
 Greg  Biffle placed  fifth,  followed  by Martin  Truex  Jr., Almirola,  Kevin
 Harvick, Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
 
 Johnson,  who also won  five races this year, fell from second to third in the
 Chase standings as a result of his disappointing finish.
 
 "I just got to reflect back on an amazing year," he said. "It's definitely not
 the  result we wanted, but I'm very proud of how we raced all year long. We'll
 come back next year and try to get them."
 
 11/18 21:16:06 ET

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