Homestead, Fla., — It was not without drama that Brad Keselowski won his first Sprint Cup championship, but the Penske Racing driver picked up not only his first championship, but the first championship for owner Roger Penske.
“I’ll tell you, it’s been a great season. I just can’t take my hat off enough to all of the great guys on our team from Brad, Paul Wolfe, the whole team,” said Penske.
As the championship battle came to a close, so did the on-track action in the 2012 season with Jeff Gordon winning the Ford EcoBoost 400. Clint Bowyer was second, and Ryan Newman was third.
Keselowski finished 15th and hoisted the 2012 Sprint Cup championship trophy at the end of the day. It was the first Sprint Cup championship for both Keselowski, and owner, Roger Penske.
Keselowski says his whole life and career he has used motivational words “I’m not big enough, strong enough, fast enough” to carry a chip on his shoulder.
“It took until this year to realize that I’m not,” said Keselowski. “I’m not big enough, fast enough, or strong enough—no person is.”
“Only a team can do that,” Keselowski added. “These guys up here they make me big enough, they make me fast enough, and they make me strong enough to do anything we want to. I can’t be here without them, I really can’t.”
Keselowski had to beat the best in five-time champion, Johnson.
“He’s the best,” said Keselowski. “He proved the other day he was going to win this damn race, and I knew that.”
“We were not as fast as we wanted to be, I’d be the first to admit that, but my guys never gave up,” added Keselowski. “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.”
Clint Bowyer (-39)
Bowyer was able to come back from the disappointment in Phoenix to finish second—behind Jeff Gordon. Bowyer said the car was good, but not the strongest on the track.
“It was a good year for us, and a good finish for us, and a good way to cap off a great year,” said Bowyer. “You just hope to run that good and hope to land with a good family and a good team.”
Bowyer said all three Michael Waltrip Racing teams were strong and throughout the year and now that the season is over the success feels good. Bowyer jumped two positions in the points standings.
“It’s huge,” said Bowyer. “To end up second in points and beat guys like Jimmie Johnson to do it.”
Bowyer was congratulatory of Keselowski, saying it’s just a “cool story.”
“We’ll have a new face as the champion of this sport,” said Bowyer. “I would’ve liked for it to have been me, but I’m super proud of him and all his efforts.”
“He was strong when it counted and we all did a good job,” Bowyer added. “We all had a great year. I’m proud of my MWR team.”
Jimmie Johnson (-40)
Johnson went into Miami the only driver with the opportunity to catch Keselowski. On lap 185 it looked like a sixth championship might just happen when Keselowski ran out of fuel, but a missed lug nut on the lap 215 green flag pit stop forced Johnson to serve a penalty and go one lap down. The night went downhill from there when the cockpit of the No. 48 filled with smoke on lap 226. Johnson came back to pit road and the team pushed the car to the garage. The issue was diagnosed as a rear gear issue.
“Pretty heartbreaking,” said Johnson from the garage. “We were doing what we needed to, and certainly in the position to put a lot of pressure on that No. 2 (Keselowski) car.”
“That’s racing, stuff happens, it’s out of my control certainly,” I just have to reflect back on an amazing year and a ton of effort from everybody. Definitely not the result we wanted, but I’m very proud of how we raced all year long and the success we had. We’ll come back next year and try again.”
Kasey Kahne (-55)
Kahne finished 21st, but said the first season with Hendrick Motorsports with the No. 5 team was pretty good.
“It could have been better,” said Kahne. “I could have finished better tonight.”
“I’m more thinking about tonight’s race than the season,” Kahne added. “I sped on pit road and that lost us a little bit of time there at the end; we just got off, we had to pit more than the other guys. So it is kind of what it is.”
Greg Biffle (-68)
“We certainly could have been better, but it was a rough weekend for us,” said Biffle, who finished fifth.
Biffle said the finish was exciting for the team, especially being the first year as a full team.
“On the other hand, it’s a little disappointing that we didn’t win the title or get closer than we did,” Biffle added. “It’s kind of bittersweet.”
Denny Hamlin (-71)
Hamlin finished 24th.
Matt Kenseth (-76)
In his final run in the No. 17 for Roush-Fenway Racing Kenseth finished 18th, and was frustrated by the handling of the car throughout the race.
“I thought we had a top-five car in the beginning and we put two tires on one time and the handling totally went away from us and we were junk from there on out, and the rest of the race,” said Kenseth, who will move to Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 20 in 2013. “We were one of the cars that didn’t pit to make it on fuel and then that cost us a good 10 spots.”
“A frustrating ending to the season,” Kenseth added.
Kevin Harvick (-79)
Harvick struggled early, but rallied for an eighth place finish.
“That was a battle,” said Harvick. “We just kept working on our car all day, and we were able to get it better.”
“Just pitted at the right time, and were able to save enough gas to get in our pit window,” Harvick added. “We’ve worked hard on fuel mileage, and it paid off for us today.”
Tony Stewart (-89)
Stewart finished 17th.
Jeff Gordon (-97)
Gordon rebounded from last week’s scuffle to drive into victory lane. Gordon said he knew the car was good going into the race.
“At times I didn’t think we had a winning car, but we played the strategy perfectly and we had a really good car,” said Gordon. “It’s just unbelievable to experience this.”
“After last week, and then we come here and battle like this and get to victory lane—it’s just unreal,” Gordon added. “This is a great way to end the season.”
Gordon was fined $100,000 and docked 25 points following the altercation with the No. 15 in Phoenix. Gordon said the events of last week would eventually work itself out through the racing.
“I feel terrible how I went about it, and I regret how I went about it,” said Gordon. “I can’t take it back, but what we can do is look forward and race guys as hard and clean as we can.”
“This is a great way to get some positive things going because this year’s been really up and down,” Gordon added.
Martin Truex, Jr. (-101)
A sixth place finish was not exactly what Truex wanted, especially after running in the top-two for several laps.
“Story of our season,” said Truex. “I don’t even know what to do about it.”
“We didn’t even finish top-10 in points—which sucks,” Truex added. “We outrun the No. 24 (Gordon) all day then he wins the race and beats us, and now we’re not in the top-10 in points, and it sucks.”
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-155)
Earnhardt finished 10th, but said that the season had been “really good,” and is already looking forward to 2013.
“I’ve had a blast,” said Earnhardt. “I thank my team. I wouldn’t trade them for anybody in the garage.”
“I can’t wait to test the new car more and get to Daytona,” Earnhardt added. “It will be a whole new ball game.”