AP Photo/Larry Papke
Brad Keselowski leads Jimmie Johnson by 20 points entering the finale in Homestead.To lock up his first Sprint Cup Series championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Brad Keselowski needs only to finish in the top 15. It seems a virtual lock, seeing as in the last 21 starts, more than half of the season schedule, Keselowski has only finished outside the top 15 once, a 30th-place run at Bristol.
If he clinches the title on Sunday, Keselowski will have won his first championship in just his third full Sprint Cup season. In NASCAR's modern era (starting in 1972), only two drivers have won a title within their first three full seasons: Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt.
Earnhardt ended up winning a record-tying seven championships in his career, while Gordon is at four and still counting.
Two seasons ago, despite winning a Nationwide Series championship, Keselowski's Sprint Cup performance was disappointing. He finished 25th in points, failing to finish better than 10th in any start.
Most Cup Wins In Season of 1st Title - Since 1990
The next season, with the addition of crew chief Paul Wolfe, Keselowski won three times and finished fifth in points. He was just the second driver in the modern era to run a full season and finish 25th or worse in points, and then rebound to win at least three races the following season, joining Kurt Busch.
This year, with a title, he'll become the sixth driver in series history to win a Cup championship after finishing 25th or worse in points in the previous two seasons. But the other five didn't run a full season the year they finished 25th or worse.
Keselowski had already made history prior to this year, dating back to his time racing part-time for Phoenix Racing and Hendrick Motorsports in 2009.
In just his fifth career start, Keselowski won his first Cup race. It was one of the most memorable races in recent history, a door-to-door battle that sent Carl Edwards flying into the catchfence. The win made him the first driver in series history to make his first career lap led the final lap of a race.
The win was one of the largest upsets in Cup history at the time. It remains the only Cup win for Phoenix Racing and made Keselowski one of just five drivers to win within his first five starts in series history, joining Trevor Bayne, Jamie McMurray, Kevin Harvick and Mark Donohue.
Keselowski can also complete the resume of his team, Penske Racing, which has won 15 Indianapolis 500s but has yet to win a NASCAR Cup Series title, coming closest in 1993 when Rusty Wallace finished second.
What's more, Keselowski has five wins in 2012 and assuming he holds on for the championship, only one driver since 1990 would have more wins during his first Cup title season (seven by Jeff Gordon).
Keselowski will turn 29 next year, but he already has a career's worth of accolades.