HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Brad Keselowski, loud, a little buzzed and soaked in beer, bounded through the door with an oversized bottle of champagne in one hand and his cellphone in the other. He plopped down next to Roger Penske, a pillar of the American auto industry, and triumphantly slapped him on the back.
“We did it boss,” Keselowski hailed.
“Did you bring your tweeter?” the 75-year-old Penske replied.
NASCAR’s oddest couple captured its biggest prize Sunday night, when Keselowski brought Penske his first Sprint Cup championship 40 years after the owner’s first stock car race. He beat five-time champion Jimmie Johnson of mighty Hendrick Motorsports while delivering the crown that fills a glaring hole on Penske’s otherwise sterling racing resume.
Penske is considered the gold standard of open-wheel racing — he has 15 Indianapolis 500 wins — and his empire makes him one of the most successful businessmen in America. But until Sunday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, his NASCAR program was never more than average.
Keselowski might not have seemed like Penske material three years ago, but he’s a cornerstone now.
He was a developmental driver for Hendrick Motorsports in 2008 when he went to see Penske, convinced he could be the driver to bring “The Captain” a coveted Cup championship. He wiggled free from his contract a year later, and had a second-tier Nationwide championship — and a closet full of starched white Penske shirts — to show for his convictions.
Now, three years into the partnership, he and Penske have that Cup championship and a connection no one saw coming.
“Always, throughout my whole life I’ve been told I’m not big enough, not fast enough, not strong enough and I don’t have what it takes,” Keselowski said from the championship stage. “I’ve used that as a chip on my shoulder to carry me through my whole career. It took until this year for me to realize that that was right, man, they were right.
“I’m not big enough, fast enough, strong enough. No person is. Only a team can do that.”
Keselowski needed 125 starts to win his first championship, the fewest starts since four-time champion Jeff Gordon won his first title in 93 starts in 1995. Keselowski also won a second-tier Nationwide title in 2010, his first season with Penske and the owner’s first official NASCAR championship.
Gordon, who avoided suspension this week but was fined $100,000 by NASCAR for intentionally wrecking Clint Bowyer last week at Phoenix, overcame the controversy to win the race in a 20th anniversary celebration for sponsor Dupont and Hendrick Motorsports.
It was Gordon’s first victory at Homestead, which leaves Kentucky as the only active NASCAR track where he’s yet to win.
Who did Gordon beat? Bowyer, of course.
And Bowyer’s second-place finish moved him to a career-best second in the final standings. Third-place went to Ryan Newman, who got his break in NASCAR with Penske and spent seven seasons driving for the owner.
Keselowski started the race up 20 points on Johnson, who blew a tire and crashed last week at Phoenix to give Keselowski a nice cushion. He needed to finish 15th or higher in the finale to wrap up his first championship. But the Penske team took nothing for granted — not after Will Power crashed in the IndyCar finale to blow a 17-point lead and lose the championship.
And this one got tight, too, especially when Keselowski ran out of gas on pit road during green flag pit stops. It put him a lap down with Johnson leading, and Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe frantically tried to figure out how dire the situation had become.
But minutes later, Johnson went to pit road for his own stop and pulled away with a missing lug nut. NASCAR flagged the Hendrick Motorsports team and Johnson was forced back to pit road for another stop.
It got worse for Johnson from there. He broke a rear end gear in his Chevrolet and went to the garage with 40 laps to go, essentially clinching the championship for Keselowski.
SPOKANE (AP) -- With an upcoming holiday tournament, senior Elias Harris made sure No. 19 Gonzaga didn’t overlook an overmatched opponent.
Harris had 16 points and a career-high 18 rebounds as the Bulldogs overwhelmed South Dakota 96-58 Sunday.
“I was just trying to get myself going, get the team going, so I was just crashing to boards,” said Harris, who had 10 rebounds.
“Just go out and have fun, come out with lots of energy, attack the boards and grab as many boards as I can. That was my mindset.”
Przemek Karnowski, a 7-foot-1 freshman from Poland, had a game-high 20 points off the bench for the Bulldogs (3-0), who head to the Old Spice Classic in Florida to face Clemson Thanksgiving.
UNCASVILLE, Conn. (AP) — Deshaun Thomas made a case Sunday that he’s ready to be Ohio State’s next star.
Thomas tied a career high with 31 points and led No. 4 Ohio State to a 77-66 win over Washington and the championship of the Hall of Fame Tip Off tournament.
The 6-foot-7 junior, who also had eight rebounds, had 21 in the first half as the Buckeyes (3-0) built at 10-point lead and cruised through the second half.
“We haven’t played against anyone like him this year,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “He came out, he was on fire. He couldn’t miss anything.”
C.J. Wilcox led Washington (2-2) with 18 points and Abdul Gaddy had 15. The Huskies earned the right to play Ohio State with an overtime win Saturday night over Seton Hall.