Monday, August 29, 2011

Deuces Wild (Card) – Keselowski Goes from Underdog to Possible Title Contender in 2011

Deuces Wild is typically written by Katy Lindamood but this week she hands over the driver's seat to Lacy Keyser in a special edition.

Credit: John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR
When life hands you lemons you tend to make lemonade. When life hands you an opportunity you take it, and that's exactly what Brad Keselowski has done in 2011. Keselowski, who got his NASCAR start driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the Nationwide Series, has made waves on the track and in the garage in only a few short years. Whether he's roughing up other drivers or getting roughed up himself, Keselowski is sure to be remembered, for the right reasons.

Keselowski’s first full season in Sprint Cup was what most first-time drivers experience, a bad one. Piloting the No. 12 Penske Dodge in 2010, Keselowski led a total of 41 laps and scored just two top-10 finishes in route to a 25th spot in the series standings. Although his Cup season didn't meet his expectations Keselowski's efforts with Penske were not in vain. Winning the first ever Nationwide Series title for Roger Penske, Brad visited victory lane six times.

In 2011 Brad was chosen to drive the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge and as the season began his outlook was positive. Things got off to a rocky start earning finishes no better than 18th in the first nine races of the season. A solid third place finish at Darlington was backed up three races later on June 5th with a win at Kansas Speedway. That's when talk of a possible “wild card” spot in the Chase began. Could Keselowski make the Chase with just that win alone? Would he be able to finish consistently in the next several races and move up into the top-20 in points making him eligible for the spot? The next several races were a roller coaster. Solid top-10 finishes were followed by lackluster performances. Keselowski's Chase odds were looking dismal.

And then something changed.

While testing at Road Atlanta a horrible accident occurred leaving Brad with a broken ankle. With a broken ankle how would his racing be affected? Would he have a relief driver or would he race through this pain? Not only did he race, but Keselowski scored his second win of the season. A Cinderella story in the making if ever there was.

Although visibly in pain, Keselowski used his moment in the spotlight at Pocono to put his racing job in perspective. Remembering the soldiers who had died in a helicopter crash the previous week, Keselowski said, “Heroes are the ones who died in Afghanistan, I just drive the car.” With two wins under his belt the talk of a “wild card” spot intensified and when he followed up the win with a second at Watkins Glen and a third at Michigan more fuel was added to the fire.

Heading into Bristol Kyle Busch was considered the favorite, but Keselowski hoped to prove he not only had what it takes to make the Chase, but that he deserved to be there. Starting from the eighth position the Miller Lite Dodge was among the top cars for most of the night. Turning solid laps and having consistent stops the team was able to take the lead after the last caution and and drive way for the win while Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex battled it out for second. After the race Keselowski said, “An awesome race team in Penske Racing. The night race at Bristol! This is the race that Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt win. It’s the race of champions. I can't believe it. There are races that pay more. There are races that might have a little more prestige, but this is the coolest damn one of them all. We won it!"

Now in the 11th spot in the standings, Keselowski is a shoe-in for the wild card. From a rocky start at the beginning of the season to his recent string of top-3 finishes, Keselowski has found the key, or simply his Mojo. Whether it's his broken ankle or something else the driver of the Blue Deuce very well could knock Jimmie Johnson off the Championship throne.

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