Voting Panel

Chris Economaki
Editor/Publisher, National Speed Sport News
Dr. Dick Berggren
Executive editor, Speedway Illustrated
Eli Gold
TV and Radio Broadcaster
Bob Jenkins,
TV Broadcaster
Ken Squier
TV Broadcaster
Steve Ballard
Writer, Indianapolis Star
Lewis Franck
Correspondent for Reuters
Mike Harris
Motorsports Editor, AP
Ed Hinton
Writer, ESPN.COM
John Sturbin
Senior Writer, RacinToday.com
Mike Vega
Writer, Boston Globe
Steve Waid
Vice President of Editorial Development, NASCAR Scene
Jim Pedley
Managing Editor, RacinToday.com
Bob Varsha
TV Broadcaster, Speed Channel
Mike Brudenell
Detroit Free Press
Nate Ryan
Writer, USA Today
Terry Blount
Writer, ESPN.com
Dustin Long
Writer, Landmark Newspapers,/ National Motorsports Press Association President
Tom Jensen
Senior NASCAR Editor, SpeedTV.com
Jenna Fryer
Motorsports Writer, The Associated Press
Home » Driver of the Year, FEATURE STORY, INDYCAR, NASCAR - Sprint Cup Series, NHRA

Keselowski About To Be Showered by Awards

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 28 2012

The award season starts right now for Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

On a to-do list topped by “Date a celebrity,” 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski has added “Buy a tank” en route to what appears to be the inside track to the Driver of the Year award.

We’ll get to that possible tank purchase by “Bad Brad” in a moment.

But first, fourth quarter and final ballots for DOTY are due at noon today from a 21-member panel of national motorsports journalists and broadcasters. A panelist since 1996, it seems to me that Keselowski is a lock to add his name to a distinguished list of DOTY winners that began with open-wheel icon Mario Andretti in 1967 and saw Tony Stewart honored after clinching his third Cup championship one year ago.

“Yeah, it’s an award that’s been around for some time,” Keselowski said during a recent national teleconference. “I think I won the quarterly last year during the summer. So those awards aren’t something that you should take lightly, for sure. So it would be nice to win it. We’ve done some great things this year that I’m very proud of, along with many other drivers. I wouldn’t be ashamed to not win it. But on the flip side, it would mean a lot to me to (win it).”

Fourth quarter and final balloting are separate processes, although it wouldn’t be a shock if Keselowski prevailed in both. Interestingly enough, reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay – who is on my short list of final DOTY candidates – beat Penske Racing’s Keselowski for the third quarter award.

My final ballot candidates are led by Keselowski, 28, who earned his first Cup championship by 39 points over

Brad Keselowski started to drink it all in right after the race at Homestead. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Clint Bowyer of Michael Waltrip Racing during a dramatic season-ender at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 18.

A five-time race-winner this season in the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger, Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe outlasted five-time Cup champ Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus of Hendrick Motorsports to give car-owner Roger Penske his first title in NASCAR’s premier series. Penske Racing, which began running Cup races in 1972, ended the longest non-championship streak among current ownership. Penske’s best previous finish in the championship standings was second in 1993 with Rusty Wallace. In addition to his five wins, Keselowski posted 13 top-five and 23 top-10 finishes.

Hunter-Reay merits consideration after clinching his first IndyCar Series championship during the season-ender at Auto Club Speedway on Sept. 15. RHR’s fourth-place finish at Fontana, Calif., locked up the title by three points over Will Power of Team Penske. Driver of the No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda Dallara/Chevrolet, Hunter-Reay won four races – including a summer stretch of three in a row – for Andretti Autosport. Hunter-Reay’s average finish during the 15-race season was 9.0, including seven top-five and 10 top-10 results. A 31-year-old native of Boca Raton, Fla., Hunter-Reay became the first American to win the championship since Sam Hornish Jr. in 2006.

My final two candidates are first-time NHRA champions Antron Brown and Jack Beckman, nitro teammates on the Don Schumacher Racing juggernaut.

Brown, a 36-year-old native of Chesterfield, N.J., claimed the Top Fuel world championship despite a first-round loss during the season-ender at Pomona, Calif., on Nov. 11. Driver of the Matco Tools dragster, Brown posted six wins in 11 final rounds and set a national elapsed time performance record in Round 4 of the six-race Countdown to the Championship to add 20 bonus points to his total over runnerup/teammate Tony Schumacher. Brown beat Schumacher, a seven-time world champion, by seven points. Historically, Brown became the first African-American driver to win a major U.S. racing championship, adding to the NHRA’s groundbreaking list of diversity.

Meanwhile, Beckman emerged as Funny Car world champion over DSR teammate Ron Capps by two points in the closest title finish in a class history that dates to 1974. Beckman, a 46-year-old native of San Fernando, Calif.,

Don Schumacher Racing's Antron Brown had a historic season. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

won three races in the Valvoline/NextGen Dodge Charger R/T and also set a national performance record during Round 4 of the Countdown. A cancer survivor and former drag racing school instructor, Beckman’s run to the championship was jump-started after he and Capps swapped crew chiefs and teams four races into the season.

On this list, the above drivers rate ahead of two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. of Roush Fenway Racing; first-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion James Buescher of Turner Motorsports; first-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Allen Johnson (and father/engine-builder Roy) of Team Mopar/J&J Racing; and Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas, who won their sixth GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Prototype championship, and third in a row, for car-owner Chip Ganassi.

We’ll see if my fellow-panelists agree for the 46th edition of the award for North American-based series overseen by businessman Barry Schmoyer, president of the Driver of the Year Foundation in Sarasota, Fla.

Now, back to Keselowski and that tank, first mentioned during a teleconference last week and revisited during an interview Tuesday in Las Vegas, site of Champion’s Week festivities leading into Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards banquet. The ceremonies from Wynn Las Vegas will be televised live on SPEED at 8 p.m. (EST).

Keselowski said that while he hasn’t begun the process of checking for used military tanks on eBay, he would like to purchase one from the World War II to Korean War era, roughly encompassing the 1940s to mid-1950s.

“I don’t want to do what everyone else does; I want to be different,” said Keselowski, who clinched the title with a 15th-place finish in the season-ender. Keselowski’s championship came in his 125th start, the fewest since Sir Jeff Gordon captured his first of four titles in 1995 in 93 starts.

“I’ve been looking into that (tank purchase) really all summer long,” said Keselowski, a native of Rochester Hills, Mich. “It all started with Wally Dallenbach who was telling me a story about having one. I thought, ’Wow, that would be awesome.’ So obviously living where I do (Mooresville, N.C.) and being around Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., I thought it would be cool if we both got a tank and chased each other around in the woods with them. It’s kind of our deal.

“I promised myself if I won it, I would buy one whether Dale does or not. It was kind of a little bit of motivation, I should say. I’m not one to really buy trophies for myself, but I think a tank would be pretty cool. I want to put one together and have some fun with it. When I’m done playing with it, I’ll just park it in the driveway and scare off people who aren’t supposed to be around. I don’t know. It will be fun either way.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, November 28 2012
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Quotes

“There is no higher compliment on your driving. Of all the awards, this one is special. The criteria go directly to your performance. It carries an awful lot of prestige.”
– Mario Andretti

“It’s an honor to be named Driver of the Year ... It’s something I take a lot of pride in, especially since one of the guys I’ve always looked up to in racing, A.J. Foyt, won this award back in 1975."
– Tony Stewart

“I said it in December, and I’ll say it again – this award is dedicated to our Army Strong soldiers Their teamwork and passion are inspiring and a huge part of our drive to be successful.”
-Tony Schumacher.

Previous Recipients

2011-Tony Stewart
2010-Jimmie Johnson
2009-Jimmie Johnson
2008-Tony Schumacher
2007-Jimmie Johnson
2006-Jimmie Johnson
2005-Tony Stewart
2004-Greg Anderson
2003-Ryan Newman
2002-Cristiano da Matta
2001-Jeff Gordon
2000-Bobby Labonte
1999-Dale Jarrett
1998-Jeff Gordon
1997-Jeff Gordon
1996-John Force
1995-Jeff Gordon
1994-Dale Earnhardt
1993-Nigel Mansell
1992-Bobby Rahal
1991-Michael Andretti
1990-Al Unser, Jr.
1989-Emerson Fittipaldi
1988-Bill Elliott
1987-Dale Earnhardt
1986-Bobby Rahal
1985-Bill Elliott
1984-Mario Andretti
1983-Bobby Rahal
1982-Darrell Waltrip
1981-Darrell Waltrip
1980-Johnny Rutherford
1979-Darrell Waltrip
1978-Mario Andretti
1977-Cale Yarborough
1976-David Pearson
1975-A.J. Foyt
1974-Bobby Unser
1973-David Pearson
1972-Bobby Allison
1971-Richard Petty
1970-Al Unser, Sr.
1969-Lee Roy Yarbrough
1968-Mark Donohue
1967-Mario Andretti