Clinton, South Carolina, Monday, October 20, 2014, 11:22 a.m.
After Brad Keselowski won the Geico 500 at Talladega, NASCAR’s Kerry Tharp asked the 2012 Sprint Cup champion about his race, which is normal for a moderator, and Keselowski strangely said that he had been watching Roger Penske, his owner, and Paul Wolfe, his crew chief, discuss the race while feeling his face.
Not feeding his face. Feeling his face. Keselowski, ever inquisitive, said, “They say, when you have a lot of adrenaline, your facial hair grows faster and fingernails grow faster. I have a shadow, and my nails need to be trimmed.”
Eureka! The key to victory!
Then Tharp said one word, “Wolfman,” and Keselowski’s answer took approximately five hundred words, none of which had anything to do with wolfmen.
That’s Brad. I wasn’t there, of course. I was just reading the transcript this morning. Some weeks I don’t even read the transcripts. Some weeks Keselowski doesn’t win.
The gist of it was: We had great cars at the restrictor-plate tracks. Nothing went our way in the first three. To actually quote him, “In the back of my mind, those three races, that we had so much speed at, and no results to show for it, made me feel like we were due.”
Let’s put this victory in perspective with all its layers. Keselowski had to win to continue his quest for the championship. Had he finished second, he would have been like Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, and Kasey Kahne, which was to say kaput. Finished. Out of it. Back among the rabble. Out of sight, out of mind. Keselowski would hate being there. Keselowski loves the spotlight. For thirty-five drivers, next week at Martinsville is a race and also a bummer.
When Keselowski was racing for this victory, he got some needed help from his teammate, Joey Logano, but when he was actually guarding his lead on the last lap, the driver most in position to help or hinder him was the driver who slammed into him – not with his speeding car but his speeding body — and clamped his arm around Keselowski’s equine head after the race the previous weekend ended at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
What did Keselowski think about having Matt Kenseth in his rear-view mirror? Humor.
“To me, it was funny how this racing world works out,” he said. “I don’t know why it’s that way. I don’t know why it seems, every week, there’s either a fight in the garage, or a mishap or something like that happens, those two cars and people end up together, whether it was our cars were parked together in the garage area or on the race track for the win in the closing laps at Talladega. I don’t know why that happens.
“I got a chuckle out of that, personally. I didn’t feel uncomfortable the least bit.”
In other words, it wasn’t just a matter of staying in the Chase and going from Contender to Eliminator or some other ZZ Top album.
Apparently, while thousands of fans were saying, “Uh, oh, oh, oh, watch out, this is going to be fun” … so, too, was Keselowski.
NASCAR fans tend to eat their young. It’s hard to upset the apple cart as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, and others did without taking a few hits. Every young driver who maximizes his success minimizes that of a revered veteran.
Sour grapes linger in the palate.
A champion, which, by the way, Keselowski already is, can’t get rattled. He wants to get along and be respected, but the main goal is to win. Again. And again. In baseball, Leo Durocher once said nice guys finish last. It’s a little different in racing. Oft times they finish second.
Said Penske of Keselowski, “I’ve told him a lot, it’s over, it’s over, let’s move on. Look, I like him. He’s a great driver. We have a long-term relationship with him. If he wants to get a little upset sometimes, that’s okay with me. We’ll let NASCAR figure out if he’s over the line or not. I guess it (Keselowski’s after-school extracurriculars) cost us fifty grand. I’ll take fifty grand and the win this week. Wouldn’t you?”
“I don’t think this is the first time we’ve seen Brad step up to the plate. Seems like everyone is against him. Seems like that fires him up more. I’ve got his back a hundred percent,” Wolfe said. “I didn’t see anything that he did out of line last weekend. I told him that. He does a great job and races hard. That’s why we like him driving our car.
“He sets his mind to something, he’s going to make it happen.”
It’s onto the final four races, the three that turn eight drivers into four and then the one race, in Homestead, Florida, for the championship. Any one of them can win it, mainly because the format is skewed toward happenstance as much as performance. The fastest are favored, but so are the fortunate, and all eight must remember that it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, Father Time, Uncle Goodyear or Aunt Engine Block.
Keselowski is one of twenty-nine men to win Cup championships. About half that many have won more than one. Keselowski is thirty years old, still very much the young man in a hurry.
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