Brad Keselowski has pushed me to be better, team owner Roger Penske says

With 15 victories in the Indianapolis 500, countless open-wheel championships, a win in the Daytona 500, along with 72 other victories in NASCAR's top series, Roger Penske's resumé is almost beyond reproach.

Yet the one thing still missing is a Sprint Cup Series championship, Penske has never come close to winning outside of one year (1993).

However, that will likely change this Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Brad Keselowski holds a 20-point lead over Jimmie Johnson and, barring something unexpected, will secure his team's first title.

In a short amount of time, Keselowski has transformed Penske Racing into a championship-caliber organization.

"He's passionate about the sport," Penske said Friday at Homestead. "He wants me to be involved as he has the rest of the team, and I think that's why we've stepped it up.

"He's made us a better team."

Since his arrival at the end of the 2009 season, Keselowski has been in contact with his owner every day, cultivating new ideas on how the team can become better – whether it's improving the team's gym or ways to make its fleet of Dodges faster or even who to hire. And in doing so, the 28-year-old driver from Michigan has impressed his boss immensely.

"I'd have to say that Brad has not only pushed me as an individual, he's pushed the team in a positive direction, and he's delivering," Penske said. "It's one thing when someone is pushing you and they don't deliver. But he seems to be able to give us that extra push but deliver on the race weekends, and that's what we're expecting him to do this weekend."

Keselowski's leadership took on even greater importance during last year's offseason, when the team and Kurt Busch "mutually" agreed to part ways. Busch, a former Cup champion, had been the de facto No. 1 driver with most of the team - including Keselowski - focusing its efforts on making him better.

But Busch's departure created a void that needed to be filled.

Shortly after Busch's departure, Penske called his young driver into his office and asked him to take an even bigger leadership role within the organization. Not coincidentally, the team has flourished since.

"He said to me many times when he was racing with Kurt, ‘I've got to get better so I can help Kurt,'" Penske said. "He said that to me not once but many times. Once Kurt left and he stepped into the leadership position, he's just taken it over. ... We don't have two teams, it's one team, there's no question, because the interface, the way our shop is set up, the way we build our cars, where our crew chiefs sit, they're all together.

"... I think that's helped us, and Brad has been a big catalyst in that society."

Now on the verge of doing something neither has done previously, Penske has no problem lavishing praise on his young driver.

When asked who Keselowski reminded him of, Penske compared him to four-time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears with his ability to "dig deep and make it happen, the consistency and...he's a winner."

And as Keselowski has matured off the track, he's also matured on it as well, and that hasn't gone unnoticed either.

"He's learned like a lot of the great drivers that have gone through that rough patch," Penske said. "He's emerged, and the speed that he's come from where he was when he first started with us to where he is today, smooth, understanding the car, and ultimately being a winner to me is amazing.

"When you put those stats on the ground and see what he's done, and he's got a great future ahead of him. We expect him to deliver for us over a long period of time."

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