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Keselowski Vow: I Will Not Be ‘Run Out Of The Sport’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 21 2014

Brad Keselowski is racing to win races and championships, not to make friends. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Brad Keselowski will continue his pursuit of a second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship with team-owner Roger Penske’s blessing to be his own Bad Self.

Keselowski qualified for the eight-driver Eliminator Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup with a dramatic victory in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Needing a win to advance into the next three playoff races, Keselowski held off a swarming pack featuring new-found nemesis Matt Kenseth during a green-white-checkered flag finish. The margin of victory after 194 laps was 0.14-seconds.

“If we go on and win the championship, which I feel we’re thoroughly capable of doing, yeah, I could easily say it’s one of the biggest wins of my career,” Keselowski said Monday evening during a promotional appearance for the upcoming AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. “Certainly I’m very proud of this past Sunday’s win but we can’t get caught up in it. We’ve got work to do. We’ve got four critical races in front of us. We’re probably going to need to win at least one of ‘em, and our head’s down and focused.”

That’s the unbridled enthusiasm Penske cited post-race Sunday, when he praised Keselowski as “the key asset” of a two-car lineup that includes fellow-Eliminator Round Chaser Joey Logano. Unlike the baby-faced Logano, ”Bad Brad” started Sunday’s event $50,000 lighter in the wallet and on a four-race probation as the result of on-and-off-track scuffles after the checkered flag fell on the Bank of America 500 night race around the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway on Oct. 11.

While race-winner Kevin Harvick was celebrating in Victory Lane, tempers flared as Keselowski’s actions late in the race and during the cool-down lap left three drivers visibly upset with him. Three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart backed into him on pit lane and crumpled the front end of Keselowski’s car. Moments later Denny Hamlin and Kenseth went after Keselowski in the garage area. Hamlin was restrained in his attempt,

Brad Keselowski is fighting his way toward a second Sprint Cup championship. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

but Kenseth ambushed Keselowski and tried to tackle him to the ground in-between the team haulers. Crewmen from both teams intervened and order somewhat was restored. Stewart also was penalized for his role – $25,000 and a four-race probation. Kenseth and Hamlin were not docked.

Citing the emotion of the Charlotte weekend, Penske – he of the buttoned-down white shirt and black slacks – said he would “stand up for him (Brad K.) anywhere.” During a test last week, Penske said he advised Keselowski to forget the Charlotte histrionics and simply move on.

“Look, I like him,” Penske said of the 2012 Cup champion. “He’s a great driver. We’ve got a long-term relationship with him and if he wants to get a little upset sometimes, that’s OK with me. We’ll let NASCAR figure out whether he’s over the line or not, and I guess it cost us $50,000. But I’ll take the $50,000 and the win this week, wouldn’t you?”

Keselowski, who also presented Penske the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship, said his appreciation for the support of “The Captain” is genuine.

“First, I couldn’t be where I’m at right now without Roger in the obvious physical way, not having a car or a team,” said Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion. “But in the sense of mental toughness, having someone like him as a car-owner who you know has your back as long as you’re not too far off the beaten path means I can be aggressive and in some ways, like James Bond, have a license to kill. I’m going to use that to my advantage.”

Keselowski will be joined in the Eliminator Round that begins at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway on Sunday by teammate Logano, Kenseth and Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing, Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing, Ryan Newman of Richard Childress Racing, Carl Edwards of Roush Fenway Racing and four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon of Hendrick Motorsports. Each will start this round with 4,000 points…not that Keselowski is overly interested in the math.

“The six wins we have means nothing,” said Keselowski, who is paired with crew chief Paul Wolfe. “Everyone has zero points within the top eight.”

The Chase returns to TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval for the AAA Texas 500 on Sunday, Nov. 2, as part of the three-race Eliminator Eight segment of the 10-event Chase playoff. The AAA Texas 500 is the middle event of that three-race stretch that will determine the four drivers of the remaining eight who will earn the right to contend for the Sprint Cup Series crown during the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 16.

Statistically, the upcoming races at Martinsville Speedway, TMS and the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway on Nov. 9 present a formidable obstacle for Keselowski. He has no wins, only 12 top-10 finishes and

Brad Keselowski and his No. 2 Team Penske team are in the middle of things once again. (RacinToday/HHP photo by David Tulis)

an average result of 16.5 in 31 combined starts on those tracks. TMS in particular has proven to be troublesome for Keselowski, who only has three top-10 results and an average finish of 19.5 with 224 laps-led in 12 starts. Keselowski’s best result here is a second-place run to six-time/reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson of Hendrick Motorsports during the 2012 AAA Texas 500.

Keselowski had reeled off three consecutive top-10 finishes at TMS before April’s rain-delayed Duck Commander 500, in which he finished 15th. Keselowski did lead 85 laps and was contending before a pit road speeding penalty on his final stop foiled his chances for a win that instead went to Logano.

Addressing his reputation, Keselowski reiterated that he will not be “run out of the sport.”

“I think you look at the current crop of NASCAR drivers right now, most of them came from a time period from about 1998 to 2006, roughly,” said Keselowski, a 30-year-old native of Rochester Hills, Mich. “So they’ve kind of created this genre of drivers, so to speak, that dominates the sport. There’s a few drivers that exist before that – Jeff Gordon comes to mind; he might be the only one. And then after that there’s a few drivers – rookie) Kyle Larson, myself and my teammate Joey Logano.

“But for the most part the big block of successful drivers all comes from that era in our sport and they wield a lot of power. They control a lot of the fan base and the fan base controls a lot of what’s perceived as right and wrong. And for me, that’s just a challenge I have to fight through knowing that that’s what the perception’s going to be. And I’m going to fight through that by doing what I think is right at all times. And for me, in this instance, in this season and in this point in time that’s probably throughout my career it’s going to be racing as hard as I can race with the passion for winning.

“It’s probably going to ruffle some feathers of people who have been in this sport longer than I have and kind of feel like this is their territory. But the alternative option of, you know, rolling over and playing dead just isn’t

Bad Brad is looking good. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett)

in my DNA. I don’t plan on ever allowing it to be. So I think that’s probably the point I’m trying to get through. Maybe sometimes I articulate it better than others but I feel like I’m here to do one job and that’s to win races for my team. And I’m not looking to make enemies but certainly Priority No. 1 is not making friends.”

Wolfe said Sunday’s Talladega race was hardly the first time Keselowski has proven his mettle. “It seems like everyone is against him and it seems like that fires him up more,” Wolfe said. “I’ve got his back 100 percent. He does a great job and races hard, and that’s why we like him driving our car. He sets his mind to something and he’s going make it happen. I’m just proud of the effort and he’s very deserving of it.”

As a promoter, TMS President Eddie Gossage said Keselowski is the type of driver who can deliver “Game 7 moments” like the wild finish at Talladega.

“Dale Earnhardt Sr. used to say as long as they’re (fans) making noise when you’re introduced, whether they’re cheering or booing or whatever (all is good),” Gossage said. “It’s the day they don’t make any noise at all is when you’re in trouble. Brad’s got a ton of fans _ former Sprint Cup Series champion. But he also has folks who for whatever reason, maybe they’re a fan of somebody else, feel like he’s raced them hard or whatever. It’s a great thing because if everybody was milquetoast, what’s the point?

“And as his boss, the guy he works for said _ Roger Penske _ ‘I want him a little bit angry with a chip on his shoulder because you see the results.’ He puts points on the board and I totally understand what he’s saying when he says he’s not here to make friends, he’s here to win races. If you make friends that’s great, too. But you’re here to win races. That’s the only metric that counts.”

In addition to his career-high sixth win, Keselowski exited Talladega’s daunting 2.66-mile layout with 14 top-five and 17 top-10 results. He has led 1,518 laps through 32 events. In 193 career Cup starts, Keselowski has 16 wins, eight poles, 47 top-fives, 76 top-10s and 3,077 laps-led.

As part of his promotional visit duties, Keselowski participated in a “Who’s Got Game?” Video Game Challenge that pitted him against Gossage and some fans in ETX Racing’s NASCAR ’14 and EA Sports Madden NFL ’15. Their gaming monitor was “Big Hoss TV,” the world’s largest HD video board that towers over the backstretch seating.

A video game enthusiast, Keselowski admitted his will to win carries over into the virtual reality world. “I don’t like to lose in anything I do. I’m a sore loser,” Keselowski said. “I broke a controller or two. What happened was the velocity at which the controller hit the ground exceeded the strength it was built at. So it was a problem of physics.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 21 2014
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