Keselowski could bring Dodge title in final season
DOVER, Del. (AP) -- Brad Keselowski could send Dodge out of NASCAR as a champion.
Dodge decided this season to withdraw from NASCAR competition in both the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series at the end of this season.
Keselowski has the points lead after his win Sunday at Dover International Speedway. Penske Racing currently fields two Dodge Chargers in Sprint Cup and two Dodge Challengers in Nationwide, but Penske announced in February that it was switching to Fords for the 2013 season, leaving Dodge in the lurch.
Owner Roger Penske said there was no awkwardness in teaming with Dodge to win a title in a lame-duck season.
"The greatest thing we could do would be to bring a championship to Dodge this year," he said. "But I'm sorry to see them get out of the Cup side. Hopefully they might do something in Nationwide. At the moment, we represent them. They're partners. We're going to do our best."
Dodge returned to NASCAR competition in 2001 after an absence of nearly a quarter- century and currently only the two Penske teams, the No. 2 driven by Keselowski and the No. 22 driven by Sam Hornish Jr.
Penske Racing has been with Dodge since 2003.
"It's a unique situation for sure, but one I know we're committed to making the most out of," Keselowski said. "Certainly it would be very special to do (win the championship considering the circumstances."
Denny Hamlin had one of the cars to beat at Dover.
He just didn't have enough gas.
Hamlin's strong run from the pole, he led 39 laps, ended when he needed to pit late in the race because he was running out of gas in the No. 11.
Hamlin turned to a sports psychologist for advice on how to handle his disdain for his least favorite track. The message for Hamlin was this, "Let your challenge for the week be to fall in love with this track."
Hamlin faded to eighth and is third in the points race, 16 points behind leader and race winner Brad Keselowski.
Hamlin said the No. 11 is so fast, he'll remain a contender to win his first Cup championship. Dover had traditionally given Hamlin fits. He had an average finish of 20.5 in 13 career starts at Dover entering Sunday.
"There's nothing we can't handle on the track," he said. "I think our performance today is testament to where we're heading."
With Kurt Busch set to bolt Phoenix Racing after next week's race at Talladega, the team is on the hunt for a replacement driver for the final six races. Team owner James Finch has been talking to drivers, but the team is without major sponsorship, making it a less than attractive option.
"I know James has talked to Regan Smith and a couple of other guys," crew chief Nick Harrison said. "With no sponsor on the car, we're looking for a driver who might have a sponsorship opportunity or maybe a chance of getting a driver who might have a sponsor."
Harrison said the team was committed to running a full season. But the team needs sponsors.
"It's sad to say that's what it's down to, but it is," he said. "It takes a lot of money to do this and James has spent a lot of money to do it."
Harrison believed the organization might have been able to keep Busch had it attracted a deep-pocketed sponsor. He said there was still plenty of interest from unemployed drivers looking to gamble that a nice finish on an underfunded team in 2012 could lead to a better ride in 2013.
About 90 minutes before the start of the race, Dover posted on Twitter, "Great seats still available at the gate!"
There were plenty of great seats - and some mostly empty sections - at the race won by Brad Keselowski.
Dover Motorsports president Denis McGlynn said tough economic times are keeping fans away from the Monster Mile. NASCAR still estimated the attendance at 85,000 and that seemed generous. Dover is trying to combat dwindling crowds by slicing the number of available seats.
Dover has reduced its seating capacity from 135,000 to 122,000 by widening the seats from 18 to 22 inches in several sections. The track will eliminate about 10,000 seats and the track expects to be set at 112,000 seats for next year's spring race.
"I'm not sure we'll ever get back to where we were at the end of the `90s and 2000," McGlynn said. "But we can get way further ahead than where we are today. I think the answer to whether we can get back to that real peak lies in whether we can get another (Dale) Earnhardt-like superstar to emerge. We lost our Tiger Woods when we lost Earnhardt. We have a lot of talented drivers, but nobody has risen up to stand out like he did."
Brian Dawkins served as the grand marshal for the race hours before he had his No. 20 retired by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Dawkins, a former safety who spent the first 13 of his 16 NFL years in Philadelphia, will become only the eighth Eagle to have his number retired.
The Eagles retired No. 20 during a ceremony in the headhouse area of Lincoln Financial Field prior to their Sunday night game against the Giants. Dawkins will also be honored at halftime, when he will address the crowd.
Dawkins was excited to mingle with NASCAR personnel and give the command for drivers to start their engines.
"I want to give them a little juice before they get going," he said.
Martin Truex Jr. had a Philadelphia Eagles paint scheme on helmet for the race.
LUG NUTS: Fans can visit NASCARAftertheLap.com to win an ultimate NASCAR experience that includes meeting Chase drivers Nov. 29 at Las Vegas. ... Flyers forward Scott Hartnell was at the race. He had some time to kill with the NHL in the midst of an ongoing lockout. "We want a fair deal with the owners and they're not willing to talk like that," he said. Hartnell hasn't decided if he'll play overseas.
Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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