Minter: Keselowski Too Tough For His Own Good?
Many NASCAR fans and media members who are searching for a young aggressive driver to inject some needed enthusiasm into the sport are eyeing Brad Keselowski. The Dale Earnhardt Jr. protégé picked up his fourth Nationwide Series win of the season on Saturday at Memphis Motorsports Park using the aggressive style of driving that is rapidly becoming what he’s most known for.
He now drives for Hendrick Motorsports but will move to Penske Racing next season where he’ll compete in both the Sprint Cup and Nationwide series. His career ramp-up started, not surprisingly, with an aggressive move in the spring Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway when he held his ground on the last lap and sent Carl Edwards flying into the catch fence while he went on to score an upset win in James Finch’s No. 09 Chevrolet.
Since then, Keselowski’s tactics have drawn criticism from several NASCAR veterans including Denny Hamlin and Mike Bliss, who led the most laps at Memphis before an incident with Keselowski dealt his hopes for the win a hard blow.
“I got screwed,” Bliss said in his post-race interview. “He won the race, congratulations but I don’t think I would have done that. I should have put him down in the wall. I should have put him down in the grass and then through the wall but I didn’t do it.”
Carl Edwards, another Keselowski victim, said he would reserve judgment until he talked with the youngster, but said on TV after the race that if Keselowski wanted to race rough, he’d treat him the same way in the future.
Aggressive driving by young competitors is neither new or unexpected. Edwards admitted that he did it early in his career. Other great ones started that way too. Dale Earnhardt came into the sport using his bumper, as did Darrell Waltrip and lots of other champions. But others that were too aggressive were sent packing early in their careers. And Earnhardt and Waltrip came along in an era when sponsors and series officials were more tolerant of aggressive tactics on the track.
For many, the jury’s still out on Keselowski. His crew chief, the veteran Tony Eury Sr., refused to chastise his driver at Memphis, saying instead that the youngster has done everything the team asked and that he hates to see him move on at the end of the season.
And it remains to be seen how Keselowski will interact with fans once he has the demands of a Cup driver placed upon him. Will he be one who stops by the chain link fence and signs autographs as often as practical, or will he hop on a golf cart, wave to the fans and be whisked off to the motorcoach lot?
It also will be interesting to see how Keselowski does without Eury running the show. Earnhardt Jr., who had his greatest success as a driver under Eury, his uncle, has struggled every year he’s raced without him.
To his credit, Keselowski didn’t try to dodge the issue of his driving in his winner’s interviews at Memphis, saying among other things that he was giving the fans what they wanted.
“I was very aggressive and put myself in a lot of those situations that led to contact,” he said. “Two of them led to spins. I didn’t do myself any favors by that. It’s not like I came out on top with that. I tore my car up and slowed it down. It wasn’t like that was what won me the race.
“What won me the race was being aggressive throughout. The specific contact didn’t win me the race. They actually hurt.”
His biggest challenge now is finding a way to continue racing with drivers like Edwards, Bliss and Hamlin, because history has shown that NASCAR drivers have very long memories when it comes to perceived injustices on the track.
– Rick Minter can be reached at rminter@racintoday6 Comments