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It’s All About The Fun For Keselowski

Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Friday, April 9 2010

Brad Keselowski has made quick impressions as NASCAR driver. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent
RacinToday.com

Avondale, Ariz. – Oh, that Brad Keselowski. For a NASCAR Sprint Cup newbie, he sure knows how to attract a headline.

Only 23 races into his Cup career, which continues Saturday in the Subway Fresh Fit 600 (375 laps) at Phoenix International Raceway, Keselowski already seems to have made more than a few drivers hopping mad with an aggressive and unapologetic driving style.

Listen.

“I’ve probably given him more press than he deserves,” said Denny Hamlin, regarding their highly-publicized on-track feud last season, which included an altercation at PIR.

From Jimmie Johnson, who to date has had no on-track issues with Keselowski: “He’s a great driver, but you just don’t turn off a garage area as fast as he has for no reason.”

From Carl Edwards, who was in payback mode last month when he intentionally wrecked Keselowski at Atlanta Motor Speedway and sent him into a frightening airborne collision with the outside retaining wall: Don’t ask.

Keselowski’s response?

“I race the way I would want to watch someone race,” said Keselowski, a 26-year-old Michigan native who in his first fulltime Cup season is No. 27 in the standings (No. 2 in the Nationwide Series). “Racing is still fun for me. To keep it fun, I have to do things that entertain myself.

“Generally, what entertains fans, entertains me. I race hard and I like to push things hard. I like to get the most out of myself and the competitors around me.”

Keselowski certainly has built a substantial fan base (twice picked by fans as the Nationwide Series’ Most Popular Driver) with his sometimes no-holds-barred tactics, and no one denies he is a talented wheelmen. He won last year at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway in only his fifth Cup start, coincidentally the same race in which he and Edwards got together on the final lap. The contact resulted in a horrific crash that sent Edwards skyward into the grandstand fencing.

But en route up the NASCAR ladder from Nationwide and Camping World Truck series starts two years ago, Keselowski has angered some drivers, drawing comparisons in some quarters to Ernie Irvan, Dale Earnhardt and Attila the Hun.

“I’m not trying to be like (Earnhardt or Irvan),” Keselowski said. “I just race hard because it’s fun.”

Fun, indeed. This much is certain. Keselowski can drive the wheels off the No. 12 Penske Dodge, doing so with an assortment of daring, highly-skilled moves that leaves fans slack jawed and at the edge of their seats.

“Yes, I’m very aggressive, but I’m also very passionate,” Keselowski said. “Racing is something I want to honor by giving it 100 percent. My passion and aggressiveness comes from the desire I have to win. I want to produce results for those who have helped me.”

Keselowski is hoping to produce results this season for Penske Racing, one of several teams seeking his services. Keselowski drove for JR Motorsports the past two Nationwide seasons and also made 15 Cup starts last year for three different organizations (Hendrick Motorsports, Phoenix Racing and Penske Racing).

Why Penske?

“I felt like it was the right place for me,” Keselowski said. “In a way, I use the analogy of a guy buying stocks that got an inside tip. I see a lot of things happening inside this company that are going to make it very strong over the next few years.

“A lot of inside things are going on from the personnel and resources. Everything is going in the right direction.”

Even Dale Earnhardt Jr., who co-owns JR Motorsports, gave Keselowski his blessing to make the move to Roger Penske’s team.

“I wouldn’t say (Earnhardt) encouraged me, but when I told him about it, he told me I’d be a fool not to take it. I couldn’t leave his company without his support. Dale felt it was the right thing to do and it made me feel good about the decision.”

So Keselowski made the switch, but with a strong hope that Penske would also let him compete fulltime in the Nationwide series driving the Discount Tire Dodge.

“Ultimately, it’s a team and sponsor decision whether that happened or not, but it certainly was a request of mine,” Keselowski said. “It helps me get my footing within the Penske company, helps me understand how things work and helps me identify weaknesses.”

Keselowski already has learned one thing and that’s Jimmie Johnson-type success won’t materialize overnight.

“I don’t have a timeline in my head about that,” Keselowski said. “I think the biggest thing is I just need to show I can get better every week. Where it goes is where it goes.

“I look at (Johnson) and Chad Knaus and it took them four years to win a championship together and they’re one of the best driver-crew chief combinations in probably ever. So you hate to p put a timeline on it. Things have their own way of working out. You need to relax and not think about it as, ‘Hey, we’ve got to have three wins by this time of the year or win a championship by the fourth year.’

“I don’t think that’s fair. I just need to show consistent results.”

And one of the best to achieve such results, Keselowski said, is to never settle for anything less on the racetrack, no matter whom he might rub the wrong way.

“Certainly, fans appreciate the passion I have,” Keselowski said. “More than that, I think they appreciate the fact I try to remain true to myself. By that, it means I speak what’s on my mind. And I’m not afraid to go out there and do something, even if it’s not popular among my competitors, because I think it’s the right thing to do.

“I think fans appreciate that. Certainly, having some of the support of Dale’s fan base in JR Motorsports helped. But mostly, I think fans recognize I’m going to go at this 100 percent and they appreciate that style in a time where a lot of competitors don’t have that same philosophy.”

– Mark Armijo is the long-time auto racing beat writer for the Arizona Republic and a frequent contributor to RacinToday.com

Mark Armijo | Senior Correspondent, RacinToday.com Friday, April 9 2010
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