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Bad Brad Terrific At Keeping His Head On Race Day

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, April 22 2013

Brad Keselowski's pit crew had a busy day at Kansas Speedway on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Penske Racing vice president Walt Czarnecki took a half-circle inspection tour around Brad Keselowski’s race car as it was about to be loaded into the team hauler following Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway. What was left of the car, any way.

Kind of apropos he agreed when it was suggested to him as he stood next to the No. 2 car – which was whittled down by about a third because of wrecks and torn bodywork – considering the week that his team and star driver had gone through between the start of the Texas race weekend and the end of the Kansas race.

“Yeah,” Czarnecki said, “it’s been quite a week. Good and bad.”

The bad, of course,  were the inspection problems the Penske cars went through in Fort Worth, and the massive penalties which were handed down to both Penske Racing teams later in the week.

The good started with the team’s trip to Washington D.C. and a meeting with President Barack Obama.

But perhaps even better was Sunday’s race at Kansas where, despite the whittle job – which include a peeling away of the left rear fender, the blowing away of the rear bumper facia and fueling issues because of the area affected by contact – Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe were able to pedal,  strategize and will themselves to  a sixth-place finish.

“I’ve been around the sport for 40 years,” Czarnecki said. “I’ve seen a lot. That right there ranks in the top three or four performances by our team.”

The sixth-place finish on a day which could easily been a DNF day, was good enough to keep the defending championship team in the top three in points – Jimmie Johnson finished third to keep his points lead, while

Paul Wolfe called an amazing race on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Kasey Kahne moved past Keselowski into second place (by a single point, 274 to 273) by finishing second at Kansas.

Even with 25 points docked from his season total (he could get those back if his appeal is successful), Keselowski is third in the Cup standings, just 38 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

Czarnecki, the long-time lieutenant to team-owner Roger Penske, was once again grinning at his young driver’s abilities and his young crew chief’s skull work.

“Paul stayed cool and calm and gave everybody direction and Brad, you may have heard if you were listening with 20 laps to go, something else broke in the front of the car as well,” Czarnecki said. “Brad came on (the two-way radio) and he said, ‘I think something broke, either the splitter or one of the supports or something’ and he said something was dragging on the race track.

“So he said, ‘I’d like to hang on’ and he hung on for like 20 more laps.”

The trouble began early and oddly for Keselowski Sunday. It happened as the first caution flag waved six laps into the race.

“Something happened where there was a check-up in front,” Keselowski said. “I think somebody was wrecking and I slowed down and the guy behind me didn’t. He just drove through the quarterpanel and tore it all up and eventually the dirty air of cars being around me just sucked it apart. It’s kind of weird. I think that’s probably a really good aero lesson for everybody how dirty the air is that when another car gets beside us it literally blew the quarterpanel off of it, so it’s just part of the deal.”

Wolfe’s crew went to work, trying to patch the damage with Bear Bond. That only kind of worked. It would later break loose and flap around like a flag in a gale.

Keselowski was also assessed a penalty for pitting before pit road was open. The race had barely started and he was a lap down.

Still, back up through the field Keselowski came.

Brad Keswlowski drove and severely rumpled car to a sixth-place finish on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

And then, well over 200 laps later, there he was – sixth across the finish line and then in the garages inspecting the damage with Wolfe and Czarnecki.

“We’ve been challenged with a lot of things not going our way,” Wolfe said following the Kansas race. “Going, obviously, all the way back to prior to the race at Texas. And just when you think things can’t get any worse, we had the issues we had to day. The fueling issues early, trying to fix the damage, being laps down, coming back and the quarter panel flying off. Just everything went wrong. But the one thing about this 2 team, nobody gives up and everybody kept positive attitudes and everybody kept fightin’. And we weren’t very far from getting a top-five out of it.”

Keselowski has shown an emotional side during his four-plus years in Cup. Good, -huge-beer-glass waving emotion and some that has gotten him in trouble.

After the Texas race he let fly with an angry, profane rant about how his team has been targeted – by fellow competitors and series officials. Fans had to be wondering how the incident in which his tongue was flapping like Bear Bond at Kansas, would affect things in the STP 400.

But those on his team know that the 29-year-old driver is going to slap himself in the face and pull himself together on race day.

Nobody, both Czarnecki and Wolfe said, had to remind Keselowski to keep his thoughts on Kansas and not on Texas on Sunday. Czarnecki compared Keselowski’s ability to mind the business at hand reminds of a couple of other drivers – absolutely iconic drivers – with whom he’s worked.

“Roger (Penske) and I have been together for 40 years,” Czarnecki said. “And I would say (Keselowski) ranks right there with Mark Donohue and Rick Mears. Rick was one of those guys, too, early in his career where he could be a lap down and he’d say, ‘OK, keep working on it, we’re going to keep getting it better, keep getting it better.’ He just always kept his head. And Brad keeps his head.”

“He’s a great leader of this team,” Wolfe said. “It’s his attitude that keeps everybody motivated and pointed in the right direction.”

That direction – penalties or not – could be toward a second consecutive Sprint Cup championship.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, April 22 2013
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