[media-credit name=”Brad Keppel” align=”alignright” width=”213″][/media-credit]On Saturday, Brad Keselowski tweeted “Cup car for 2morrow is best car i’ve ever had in cup.” Many questioned Keselowski’s attitude in approaching that, saying it was cocky, or could jinx him.
“I’m always mindful of jinxing it,” he said after the Bristol race when asked. “I felt it was the best car we ever had. I just say what I think is real. If I think it’s the best car I ever had, I’ll tell them. If I think I have a s*** box, I’ll tell (Crew Chief) Paul (Wolfe), You got to fix this. Some people appreciate that and respect it. Other people make a big deal and say, You’re being negative, you’re being cocky. How about just being truthful?”
In the end, Keselowski was being truthful as he led 232 laps on his way to winning his second race in a row at Bristol Motor Speedway.
For Keselowski, it was a really good day at a track that he really likes.
“I love Bristol and Bristol loves me,” he says. “It’s a great track that really demands a hundred percent out of a driver and out of a team. Today my team certainly delivered. You could probably argue whether or not I did (smiling). But it was good. Great pit stops. Had a little bit of damage early on in the race, got it fixed. Nobody panicked. It’s tough racing that requires so much discipline mixed in with some aggression obviously.”
The win wasn’t easy for the Penske Racing team as they were involved in a wreck early on lap 24 that was triggered when Kasey Kahne cut across Regan Smith’s bumper.
“I certainly ran into the back of the 78 car,” Keselowski comments. “Then as Kasey spun down the track, barely nudged him, as well. Just a bit of contact there, enough to certainly do some damage.”
For the second win in a row, it was with a different car than the car used last season. Crew Chief Paul Wolfe says that’s a key as they don’t rest, always trying to build quicker racecars.
“There was no way we could bring back the same racecar and setup we won with in the fall and expect the same result,” Wolfe says.
Keselowski had also come back to Bristol with something to prove. After playing the pit road speeding lines to his advantage last year, critics were saying it was the only reason that he won.
“I do enjoy the challenge, for sure,” he says of proving people wrong. “That’s what I like about racing in general. I tell this all the time. Racing’s the one thing – Paul (Wolfe) could probably get a pretty good laugh out of this – is the one thing that makes me get up in the morning. That’s how I know it’s special. Maybe not on his timeline, but I still get up earlier than noon. I may get up at 9 a.m. That’s because it’s special. I love the challenge, I love the fight that you have to put up, the man versus machine or man with machine, against other machines and men. It’s cool as hell to me.
“When somebody challenges me, whether it’s fans, media, other drivers, I think that I have the desire beforehand, but it helps me focus in for sure. Of course, it means nothing if you don’t have a great team that you’re surrounded by. I feel very fortunate to have that as well.”
A win at Bristol means a lot to Keselowski as he says this is a track that only champions seem to win at.
“I think it speaks volumes for this track and what it means to your career,” he says. “There’s other places that perhaps have a little more prestige, and I said that last year as well, but this place defines a race team.”
He adds that each aspect of the weekend really tests a team in how they are able to deal with the elements.
“I think the teams that come out on top, whether it’s driver or whatever, I think they show that they’ve got what it takes to overcome adversity,” he continues. “To win championships, you have to be able to overcome adversity. I think it’s very much a defining racetrack in that sense.”
For Keselowski, he attests his experience from running the Nationwide Series as being an important contributor to being successful at the Sprint Cup level.
“I was very fortunate, and I know I was very fortunate, when I got the ride to drive for Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in the Nationwide Series,” he says. “I spent two seasons in that series as a partial Cup competitor and full-time Nationwide competitor. During that time span, I was very fortunate to race with some of the best. I don’t think we’ve seen a system that’s existed like that in decades past.”
He says that racing against Sprint Cup competitors in the series allowed him to grow as a driver.
“It obviously frustrates me a little bit when I take some heat, any Cup driver takes some heat from the press, media, fans, whatever, about running the Nationwide Series, because it’s really a character builder,” he continues. “If you can run well over there, you can come here and get the job done. That series helped me build a lot of character. It helped me learn in a smaller spotlight. I feel like when I got over here that the learning process was a lot quicker. It just came down to getting with the right team that I gelled with and that believed in me.”
Keselowski’s popularity has exploded this year virtue of what he has been able to do with social media. At Daytona International Speedway under the red flag, he tweeted a picture from inside the racecar. After he won at Bristol, he attempted to send a picture from victory lane, that showed up a little late.
“It’s something I thought would be really cool to do, for sure,” he says. “Certainly in our generation, timeliness is of extreme importance. I’d like to see that process obviously get a little bit faster, and the right people are working on it to make it happen.”
Moving forward beyond Bristol, Keselowski is looking success this season, hoping his team can deliver more strong cars this season.
“I’ve said pre-season this year that the goal here at Penske Racing is to win a Sprint Cup championship,” he says. “That’s where we’re all pushing. One win certainly doesn’t achieve that, but it’s a great step. I know I’m committed to it.”