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Dodge gets the ultimate parting gift

TBO.com
Associated Press
The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 14, 2013 at 01:37 AM

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HOMESTEAD -

Dodge said goodbye to NASCAR on Sunday in championship style.

Dodge driver Brad Keselowski won the Sprint Cup title 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 we 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 rounds 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.

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