HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Dodge said goodbye to NASCAR on Sunday.
And got the ultimate parting gift.
Dodge driver Brad Keselowski won the Sprint Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, giving longtime NASCAR owner Roger Penske his first series title and setting off a wild celebration in Victory Lane that surely will carry long into the night.
Penske Racing's rising star finished 15th in the season finale, but he clinched the title when his closest contender, Jimmie Johnson, had a catastrophic gear issue with 43 laps remaining.
So instead of getting one victory lap, Keselowski got about 40.
And no one enjoyed it more than Dodge.
"An amazing accomplishment for everyone for sure," said Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of Dodge's SRT Brand and Motorsports. "Obviously this project wasn't one that started yesterday. This has been an 11-year run with a lot of talented people who spend countless hours to make this championship possible. That's the Dodge way. It's always been the Dodge way.
"The underdogs came up and did it today. Three years ago, people were looking at us sideways when put this deal together. Everybody grew from it. From Brad to Penske to Dodge. To go out on top it makes it all worthwhile."
It was Dodge's first Cup championship since Richard Petty won in 1975.
This one was more surprising and maybe more meaningful since Dodge announced in August it was withdrawing from NASCAR after this season. The decision came in part because Penske announced days after the season-opening Daytona 500 it was moving to Ford in 2013.
"I'm literally conflicted because it wasn't about winning or losing whether we would stay in or not," Gilles said. "Those decisions were made many months ago for other reasons, but this is the best thing that could happen. The best way to look back on this is a feather in our cap. Whether (Keselowski) wins or not tonight, whether he clinches it, it's still an amazing accomplishment.
"This is a Seabiscuit situation in a way."
It sure seemed that way when Keselowski did smoky burnouts after the race, hoisted the trophy in Victory Lane and then started rounds and round of interviews while getting "a little buzzed" on Miller Lite, his sponsor.
Dodge hasn't ruled out returning to NASCAR, possibly in the second-tier Nationwide Series or maybe even in the Cup Series.
There has been speculation that Richard Childress Racing might be in the market for another engine builder. Earnhardt Ganassi Racing decided to lease motors from Hendrick Motorsports starting next season. The move was surprising considering Earnhardt-Childress Racing was formed as a joint engine-building effort between Earnhardt Ganassi and Richard Childress.
"I'm not ignorant to that," Gilles said. "I'm going to watch every race next year. I'm very interested in what's going on in NASCAR."
But if Dodge does decide to rejoin NASCAR, Gilles said it would have to be a situation similar to what the company had with Penske.
"It's very difficult to replicate the Penske situation," Gilles said. "What a team! Nothing but respect for Roger's professionalism, his attention to detail. I think he's brought a formula to the sport that others are probably going to have to start emulating because he's really done a lot with very little. Of course, he's got great resources, but it's laser focus."
Penske will begin a five-year deal with Ford in 2013, with Keselowski and Joey Logano driving for the two-car team.
Given what Penske did in 2012 — especially with the championship — no one will question whether the two-car team will be able to compete with larger organizations.
"It's not how much you put into a race team," Penske said. 'It's about the people."
- Local Sports
Quick-strike Keyser turns back Fort Hill, 6-4
Keyser scored four runs in the bottom of the second and concluded the game with a bang-bang double play to defeat Fort Hill Monday in an Appalachian Mountain Athletic Conference game at Keyser.
Thompson leads Petersburg’s victory
Marley Thompson had two hits, including a leadoff home run, to lead Petersburg over Pendleton County 9-1 on Monday evening.
Frostburg falls short against MW, 10-8
Frostburg State got off 47 shots and Spenser Love scored three times, but it wasn’t quite enough as the Bobcats fell at No. 14 Mary Washington, 10-8, in college men’s lacrosse on Saturday.
- Sports Roundup - 04/16/2014
- Sports Calendar - 04/16/2014
Panthers jump Sabres to win NHL draft lottery
NHL draft lottery losers last year, the Florida Panthers had their number come up this year.
A season of frustration for Adelman, Timberwolves
As the clock ticks down on the Minnesota Timberwolves’ regular season finale on Wednesday night, one of the most quietly successful coaching careers the NBA has ever seen could be coming to a close right with it.
Musings from the Masters
The moment doesn’t get much bigger than this — a 20-foot putt on the 18th green Sunday at Augusta National for the win.
Southern whips Northern
Derek Hinebaugh belted two doubles and led a 14-hit attack as Southern roughed up second-ranked Northern, 13-3, in Appalachian Mountain Athletic Conference baseball Monday evening.
Hyndman blanks Windber
Hope for Hyndman’s Jessica Ringler pitched a two-hitter and drove in three runs as the Hornets defeated Windber 10-0 Monday afternoon in girls softball action.
- More Local Sports Headlines
- Quick-strike Keyser turns back Fort Hill, 6-4