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10 steps to a crowning achievement

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012

Brad Keselowski will officially be crowned the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Friday night at the Wynn Las Vegas.

His journey to collecting his trophy and the big check that accompanies was much longer than just the 2012 season. And it was longer than just the three-plus seasons in which Keselowski has competed full time in the Cup series.

In fact, his journey to the top of NASCAR didn’t begin in NASCAR at all. It began with a wrench rather than a steering wheel in his hand and the rest – as they say – is history.

A look at 10 pivotal moments that have shaped Brad Keselowski's career:

No. 10: THE 1998 SEASON – Turning wheels, not wrenches

Having mostly worked for his family’s race team, K Automotive, Keselowski begins his driving career, competing in the Senior Honda 120 Quarter Midget division.

No. 9: APRIL 17, 2004 – The Truck series race, Martinsville

Keselowski makes his first NASCAR start, qualifying 26th and finishing 33rd in the No. 29 Ford owned by his father, Bob.

No. 8: JULY 14, 2007 – Joining JR Motorsports

Keselowski had made the most of the sub-par equipment he'd been using and that drew the attention of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was looking for a new driver for his Nationwide Series team. Keselowski replaced Shane Huffman.

No. 7: JUNE 7, 2008 – First NASCAR victory

In his first full season with JR Motorsports, Keselowski finds Victory Lane for the first time in Nashville. The win was just the second recorded by JRM.

No. 6: NOV. 2, 2008 – First Cup start

At Texas, Keselowski makes his debut in NASCAR's top series, driving the No. 25 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. He starts 37th and finishes 19th. Weeks later, he finishes 23rd in his second start in Homestead, Fla.

No. 5: APRIL 25, 2009 – First Cup win

Driving a partial Cup schedule for owner James Finch, Keselowski wins his first race in his fifth series start, at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. The race ends with Keselowski in Victory Lane, Carl Edwards’ car in the fence and Ryan Newman with yet another wrecked superspeedway car.

No. 4: SEPT. 1, 2009 – The move to Penske

With no Cup ride available at Hendrick, Keselowski signs with Penske Racing to run full Cup and Nationwide schedules beginning in 2010.

No. 4: NOV. 6, 2010 – A Nationwide title

Keselowski finishes third at Texas and clinches the 2010 Nationwide Series championship with two races left in the season. It’s the first NASCAR title for Keselowski and for Penske.

No. 2: SEPT. 16, 2012 – A win at Chicagoland

Beginning just his second Chase, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe earn an impressive win in the Chase opener on a 1.5-mile track. The victory is key to a title run as five of the 10 Chase races are on similar tracks.

No. 1: NOV. 18, 2012 – Claiming the Cup title

Keselowski’s only remaining competition for the championship, Jimmie Johnson, has an uncharacteristically bad race. A missing lug nut on a pit stop costs him valuable time and position. Mechanical problems ultimately send him to the garage.

Keselowski’s 15th-place finish is more than enough for his first Cup championship and the first for iconic owner Roger Penske, who has fielded entries in 29 Cup seasons.

Want to watch?

The 2012 Sprint Cup Series Awards will be televised on Speed Channel at 8 p.m. Eastern on Friday. The awards will honor the 2012 champion along with the rest of the top 10 drivers in the final Chase for the Cup standings.

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