FORT WORTH, Texas — Regardless of what happens Sunday, Brad Keselowski should leave Texas Motor Speedway within range of winning a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship with two races to go.
It would be Keselowski's first title. And for the foreseeable future, Dodge's last.
The manufacturer that was at the top of the sport in the 1970s — when the legendary Richard Petty was winning more races than anyone ever in his famous No. 43 Dodge Charger — will be out of NASCAR in two weeks.
The manufacturer announced in August that it would pull out of the sport at the end of the season, despite having a few Sprint Cup teams, including Richard Petty Motorsports, that considered signing on to drive Dodge engines next year.
Keselowski's team, Penske Racing, is the only one in Sprint Cup with Dodge under the hood this year, but it was Penske's decision in March to move to Ford next year that ultimately signaled the end of the line for Dodge.
Keselowski is two points behind leader Jimmie Johnson entering Sunday's AAA Texas 500, which begins at 2 p.m. Keselowski could bring Dodge its first title since Petty won in 1975.
Dodge was out of the sport from 1977-2001, and despite some significant success since its return, another championship remained out of reach.
Rumors have circulated that Dodge's parent company, Fiat, lacks interest in NASCAR. But regardless, the manufacturer will be missed.
“For the sport, Dodge pulling out was not a great thing,” said Marcos Ambrose, who drives for Petty Motorsports. “It's been really healthy to have four manufacturers in the sport.”
At the same time, manufacturers have become less and less impactful on the actual stock cars NASCAR puts on the track.
“It's a little bit different since we went to the current template for the cars,” Chevrolet driver Jeff Gordon said. “All you're really looking at is the engine under the hood.
“It's not like back in the day when all the cars were unique to themselves. Back then it was extremely important to have more manufacturers. But we certainly like to have them involved. They're American-made and they have meant a lot to the sport.”
Keselowski is the only Dodge driver to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup this year, with five Chevrolets, three Toyotas and two Fords.
Toyota's elevation among the elite racing teams has contributed to Dodge's demise as well. After a slow start when it entered Sprint Cup in 2008, Toyota has come on strong, providing engines for owners like Joe Gibbs and Michael Waltrip.
Keselowski has shown excitement about Penske's move to Ford.
“That was the piece that I feel like puts us in a position to make a run for the championship for the next few years,” Keselowski said in March when the announcement was made. “I think there were some limitations in making that happen with the road we were on, so we changed roads.”
Watching Keselowski's success down the stretch has been bittersweet for those at Dodge.
“It's tearing me up right now, to be honest with you,” Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of the SRT Brand and Chrysler Group LLC, told ESPN.com earlier this week. “It's a very emotional time for the whole team right now. We didn't expect to be this good. So on the one side, I'm happy because we're going out with a bang.
“On the other side it's, ‘Man, the potential.' It's so hard to get to this level and have all the different things working so well. Everything we've been working for for 11 years is happening.”
It has been clear this week that Keselowski isn't focusing on winning one last title for Dodge, but winning the first for himself and the first for his team owner, Roger Penske.
Asked what it would mean to win the championship, Keselowski turned wistful.
“To anyone that's asked me that question,” he said, “I just want to grab them and go into a time machine and send them through the course of events, because I don't think I can put into words what it means.
“It's basically the culmination of a life's worth of work, and not just one, but three or four or even more than that, when you count in my crew chief and mechanics, family, car owner and so forth. The best way that I can probably answer that is that it's a culmination of several lives worth of work.”