Cup championship is worth 40-year wait for Penske

  • Article by: DAVE HYDE , Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
  • Updated: November 19, 2012 - 7:55 PM

The longtime car owner has had plenty of success in racing, but until Sunday, a title at NASCAR's top level eluded him.

Crew chief Paul Wolfe, left, congratulates owner Roger Penske after Brad Keselowski won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

Photo: Terry Renna, Associated Press - Ap

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HOMESTEAD, FLA. - One by one, NASCAR royalty approached the man they call the Captain to offer congratulations. Jimmie Johnson, whose car troubles guaranteed Sunday's title, shook his hand.

Rick Hendrick, his good rival and best friend, gave a hug. So did Rusty Wallace, who drove the No. 2 Ford for many years.

Roger Penske has defined the winner's circle in racing. The team owner has won 15 Indianapolis 500 titles. He has won 76 Sprint Cup races. He has built a business empire, is worth more than $1 billion and never has a hair out of place.

So here he was, celebrating something he had never won, the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

"It's not about how much money you put in a team," he said. "It's about the people, the human capital."

Penske, 75, couldn't throw himself into the moment in the manner driver Brad Keselowski did after winning the title. Keselowski, 28, held an oversized beer glass and yelled to the crowd, "We did it!"

Penske never was one for the loud lines. Instead, in this defining moment, he offered insight as to why he has reached such pinnacles.

Amid the victory celebration, he asked a simple question. "Brad, what do we have to do to do this again in 2013?" Penske asked.

Later, Penske, who debuted in NASCAR in 1972, was being asked about the times he came close. With Wallace, he finished second and third in the early 1990s.

"That was a long time ago," Penske said. "The competition has gotten tougher. ...

"I've played this race in my mind over the weekend so many times, yes or no. I guess when Jimmie lost that lugnut someone gave us four aces in our hand."

There was some fortune involved Sunday. Johnson, who needed to make up 20 points on Keselowski to win his sixth Cup title, lost a lugnut, then had oil trouble and was out of the race.

Suddenly, years of work gave way to the realization he finally won.

"Personally, I feel amazing I've been able to achieve this," he said. "In racing, I've been awed for the people on the stage. To be able to join that select group and say I'm a champion in NASCAR, it means a lot.

"To me, it took guts to stay in NASCAR. I could've said, 'Well, I've won the Indy 500 15 times and that's enough.' But you haven't competed until you've competed for this. I think I just woke up here. It's a big thrill."

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