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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Brad Keselowski's ascent to the Sprint Cup title was improbable, inspiring




However you want to word it, this wasn’t supposed to happen by conventional standards.

Brad Keselowski, the upstart young driver from Rochester Hills, Michigan, was not supposed to be a Sprint Cup champion by now.

Not at his young age of 28.
Not in just his third full year in the series.

Not after he left powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports for a less-successful Penske Racing team.

His main competitor this year, Jimmie Johnson, was the veteran, common logic said, and would outlast the kid. He had the experience to fall back on. He would handle the pressure better than Keselowski.

The kid was maybe a future champ, but this year was too soon for him to seal the deal against so many veterans in the Chase, some folks in this sport were saying.

Well, Brad Keselowski proved everybody wrong in 2012.

And while most of us on the outside may be surprised, I can assure you that Brad is not.

If you’ve ever watched him race at any level, it’s obvious that Brad has never known the word quit.

He grew up around NASCAR, with his father Bob and uncle Ron racing whenever they could. Racing was part of his life since he was in diapers. It was in his blood. His father Bob won an ARCA title in 1989 as well as a Truck series race in 1997.

The Keselowski family ran a truck series team on a shoestring budget, betting every dime they had on the possibility on the racing ability of their sons Brad and Brian, who both can handle a racecar very well.

Eventually Brad got a three-race tryout from Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Nationwide team, Jr. Motorsports, and made the most of it, leading to a full-time ride with Jr.’s team.

Before he even got a full-time Cup ride, Brad won infamously at Talladega in the Cup series while driving for the low-budget James Finch team, sending Carl Edwards flying nearly into the stand in the last turn when Edwards drove in front of him and blocked. Between that incident and his many on-track skirmishes with guys like Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, he got some nicknames; “Bad Brad”, “Brad the Brat”, etc.

But behind all the trash being talked about him, it was clear that Brad was a hell of a racer, and destined to be a champion.

Many thought his future would be at Hendrick Motorsports, but there was no room for him full-time in Cup. When he announced he was going to Penske’s team, which had never won a Cup title, there was doubt he could compete as well as he would have with Hendrick.

First he won a Nationwide Series title for Penske, then on the Cup side, after some initial struggles, he quickly showed that his #2 Miller Lite car (which was most famously driven by Rusty Wallace in the past) was ridiculously fast, in part due to the how the car was built, but mostly because of the driver.

Whether it was head-to-head racing or fuel mileage races, Brad has shown throughout his career that he has what it takes to win in this sport -- both races and championships. He has already racked up 9 Cup wins in his short career, not an easy feat in this competitive era.

There have been many competitors along the way who have wanted to dismiss him as a flash in the pan or a bully on the racetrack. Denny Hamlin once famously said that Brad would never make it in this sport driving the way he does. Just last week Tony Stewart said Brad drives like he has a death wish.

But that’s all been tossed away with this championship. He is now the top driver in the top series of NASCAR, and no amount of words can take that away, regardless of who says them.

It’s a pretty inspiring thing to see a guy who started out more than a decade ago in Michigan, driving at tracks around Michigan including the local Waterford HIlls track, ascend to this level of the sport. It goes to show that if you have the talent, you can make it if you catch the right breaks and use that talent to its fullest potential. All those guys at local tracks around the country have probably boosted their goals a little bit tonight after seeing Brad has accomplished.

It’s a great day for Dodge, who gets to leave the sport celebrating a title, which almost nobody thought would happen. Hopefully they can come back one day and compete again.

It’s a great day for Roger Penske, who had won just about everything possible in motorsports except a NASCAR Cup title, despite having great drivers like Rusty in the past. He took a chance on Brad, and it paid off big time. You can’t help but feel good for the guy, who has done so much for motorsports and the city of Detroit as a whole.

It’s a great day for the Keselowski family, which has been in racing for decades and now can celebrate a Cup title. Their tears after the race were about as sincere as they come. They are just as much a part of this as Brad. “I’m so unbelievably proud of my son, I can’t even begin to tell you” Kay said after the title had been decided.

Bob and Kay Keselowski are the perfect example of how much some parents are willing to risk to help their children’s dreams come true, as happens so often in motorsports. Brad Keselowski would not be raising this Cup if his parents hadn’t put their heart, soul and full dedication -- financial and otherwise -- into his career.

And of course It’s a great day for Brad Keselowski.
He is now enshrined among the best drivers in NASCAR’s history. And the best news for him is that’s he’s still very young. At 28, he could race another 15 to 20 years. That’ s plenty of time rack up more titles and continue his ascent in the sport.

Congratulations, Brad. You earned it. You beat the best and proved everyone wrong, and proved that a young man from Oakland County, Michigan, can do whatever he wants to do, no matter how many doubters along the way tried to tell you you couldn’t.

“This guy Keselowski is something special,” Roger Penske said after the race.

I think that about sums it up.

Matt Myftiu’s NASCAR blog, Beyond the Track, can be read at


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