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Williams: ‘Bad Brad’ Has Become ‘Mr. August’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 28 2011

Brad Keselowsi smoked his tires all the way into Victory Lane at Bristol on Saturday night. The only things hotter than Keselowski's tires is Keselowski and his team. (RacinToday.com/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Standing a short distance from Bristol Motor Speedway’s entrance is a large Miller Lite billboard sporting Brad Keselowski’s profile and the phrase “Have At It Brad”.

For the 27-year-old driver, it’s a sentence that has served as a permission slip from his sponsor to transform August’s dog days of summer into a miserable time for his NASCAR Sprint Cup peers.

Saturday night in the IRWIN Tools Night Race at BMS, Keselowski walked off with his second victory in four races, defeating Martin Truex Jr. on the tough half-mile track by 0.951 second. With a second and a third in two other races this month, Keselowski owns a 1.75 average finish for August. The four straight top-three finishes have allowed Keselowski to jump from 21st to 11th in the standings.

He leads the wild card standings with three victories this season and is only 21 points behind 10th place Tony Stewart. To receive bonus points for his victories when the standings are reset for the Chase, Keselowski must crack the top 10 in points.

“Twenty-one points is still a lot of points,” said Keselowski, who led seven times for 89 laps. “That means you’ve got to beat the guy by over 10 positions over the course of two races. Beating Tony Stewart by an average of 10 positions over two races, that’s going to be pretty tough to be honest.”

Even if Keselowski doesn’t reach the top 10 before the Chase begins his performance during August with a broken ankle and an ailing back will be one of the 2011 season’s highlights. He won DirecTv’s head-

Brad Keselowski has been doing a lot of celebrating this summer. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

to-head knockout and $225,000 for his Checkered Flag Foundation, which provides special functions for veterans. At Atlanta next weekend in Sprint’s Summer Showdown he has the opportunity to claim a $3 million bonus – $1 million for himself, $1 million to be split between two fans and $1 million for his charity.

“This sport in its simplest form is just about winning,” Keselowski said. “Why make it any more complicated than that? If you’ve got cars to win, go out there and win. If you don’t, get the best finish you can. You try to be smart about it and try not to over-think it.”

Keselowski’s stunning performance the last four weeks has led four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon to describe Keselowski’s team “as strong of a team out there that there is right now.”

“They’re strong and you put them in position at the end of the race and they’re going to pull off the wins,” continued Gordon, who had to settle for third after leading five times for 206 laps and losing an intense battle for second with Truex. “I think it’s really ironic that he had the issue at Road Atlanta and ever since then he’s been on fire. I think he proved to all of us he’s tougher than we thought he was. We always knew he was a good race car driver, but he’s stepping it up … you’ve got to give him a lot of credit.”

Even though Keselowski won the Nationwide Series title last year, giving Roger Penske his first-ever NASCAR championship, his second year with the veteran car owner didn’t begin on a high note. The 2011 season was 10 races old before the team posted a finish better than 15th. At the end of May, he possessed only one top-10, a third at Darlington, and he was 25th in the points after Charlotte. Crew chief Paul Wolfe, who was with Keselowski last year in the Nationwide Series, said he had to adjust to the longer races.

“You’ve got to be able to adjust on your car as the track changes,” Wolfe said. “It definitely took me a few races to kind of understand what I needed to do. I feel as we’ve started to go back to tracks for a second time, that’s where we’ve started to shine. We’ve still got more to come and I feel like we still have a lot of room to grow to be able to compete for a championship that we know is going to be a tough task.”

The irony is that two years ago when Keselowski decided to leave JR Motorsports and the Hendrick Motorsports fold to join Penske Racing for a Cup ride, many thought he had made a major mistake. Even Wolfe turned him down initially when he talked with him about joining him at Penske. Keselowski, however, knew he was making the right move.

“Sometimes in life you have to step back and look at the complete picture and know that you have to let go to get what you want, leave your comfort zone to make it to the next level,” said Keselowski, who averaged 96.753 mph in the race slowed by six caution flags for 42 laps. “I had an incredible opportunity that Roger gave me. I felt like I was being afforded an opportunity to create something.

“If I had gone to Hendrick or waited it out, there was a long list of bad things that could have happened and a very short list of positive things that could have happened. I didn’t see that at Penske. I only saw a list of things that were good that could have happened, and the biggest negative that could happen was everybody telling me I was an idiot. Well, people tell me I’m an idiot every day, so I’m pretty much immune to that.”

Have at it Brad!

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 28 2011
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