MONDAY RUNDOWN
It's just the beginning for Keselowski and Wolfe
Terry BlountTerry Blount [ARCHIVE]
ESPN.com
Updated: Nov 19, 2012, 11:54 PM

Paul Wolfe saw something special in Brad Keselowski long before Wolfe became his crew chief: Keselowski could make a bad car look good.

"I had seen him win races in cars that I thought weren't as good as cars I was putting on the racetrack at the time," Wolfe said. "As a crew chief or a team, that's always what you want. You want a guy that you know can win races when you might not have the best race car out there. It's part of the reason I was excited about working with Brad."

Wolfe made those comments Sunday night moments after watching Keselowski win the 2012 Sprint Cup championship in only their second full season together.

"I never really looked at it from the standpoint of I want to go win a championship with him," Wolfe said. "I just wanted to go win races and continue to grow as a team."

Here's a look at the numbers on just how much they've grown:

• Keselowski's championship came in just his third full season in Cup. In the modern era (since 1972), Keselowski is just the third driver to win a Cup title within his first three seasons. He joins Dale Earnhardt (who won the 1980 title in his second full season) and Jeff Gordon (he won in 1995, his third full season).

• Keselowski was 25th in points in 2010, failing to finish better than 10th in any race. Last season, with the addition of Wolfe, Keselowski jumped to fifth in the standings, making his first Chase.

• Keselowski is only the second driver to win a Cup title and one other NASCAR touring series (Nationwide). Bobby Labonte, the 2000 Cup champ, also won the 1991 Nationwide title, which was the Busch Series at the time.

• In a way, Keselowski starts a new era. He is the first driver to win a Chase playoff who never raced in the old full-season points system.

One of many things that made winning the title special for Keselowski was he had to beat the five-time champion and the No. 48 Chevy team to do it.

Jimmie Johnson was in contention to win late in Sunday's race before things fell apart. A missed lug nut on pit road set him back, but the end came when a rear gear broke with 40 laps to go. Keselowski finished 15th, which would've given him the title even if Johnson had won the race.

"Jimmie is the best of the best," Keselowski said. "He proved it here today. He was going to win this race, and I knew that. We were not as fast as we wanted to be, but my guys never gave up.

"I'm so thankful that we drove back to 15th so that I don't have to hear for the rest of my life about how if the 48 had not had those problems he'd have won the championship."

For Johnson, it was his 10th top-5 finish in the points, making him the third driver since 1990 to post at least 10 top-5 seasons. Mark Martin has 12 and Jeff Gordon has 10, but Johnson has done it in only 11 seasons.

Keselowski now has done it in two of three seasons. It's likely more are coming for both of them.

Ed Hinton: New kind of champ | David Newton: Mixed emotions for Hendrick |
Terry Blount: Instant analysis | Live! rewind | Recap | Results | Highlights

Nationwide Series: Will Stenhouse follow Keselowski's path?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. might gain some inspiration from Keselowski. Two years after winning the Nationwide title, Keselowski won his first Sprint Cup title.

Stenhouse won his second consecutive Nationwide crown Saturday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Now he moves to Cup in the No. 17 Ford at Roush Fenway Racing, arguably a much better car than the one Keselowski took over at Penske Racing.

The best news this season in the Nationwide Series is how the Nationwide regulars are winning more races and gaining increased attention. Drivers who aren't Cup regulars won 16 races this season, the most in the series for the Nationwide guys since 2004.

Regan Smith, who was a Cup regular but will race full-time in Nationwide next year for JR Motorsports, won Saturday in his first Nationwide start in five years, a good omen for his championship chances in 2013.

Danica Patrick finished 19th at Homestead, a disappointing ending to a so-so first full season in NASCAR. She had four top-10s in 33 races and finished 10th in the Nationwide standings, but only 13 drivers competed in every event.

Austin Dillon competed for the title until the end and was named rookie of the year one season after winning the Camping World Truck Series title.

Recap | Results | Brant James: Patrick 10th in final standings | Highlights

Camping World Truck Series: Gale wins finale; Buescher takes title

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