|Keselowski's win at Kansas in 2011 was an important milestone in this fan's life.|
Credit: Lacy Keyser
2012 marked the start of something big: we saw a hot young gun take home the Sprint Cup Series championship. For the first time since 2004, the champion wasn't Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart. 2012’s champion isn't just any hot newcomer to the series - he’s been turning heads since his debut in the Nationwide Series.
I started liking Keselowski when everyone hated the young driver. His aggressive style is what caught my eye. In ways he reminded me of Dale Earnhardt. I liked how he wouldn't back down - how he wouldn't let others run him over. He stood up for himself, which is something I truly admired.
When Keselowski announced he was moving to Penske Racing for the 2010 season, I felt two different emotions. One feeling was happiness that he was finally getting the chance to move up and race for a big team, but I was also sad. Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave him a shot when no one else would. If it wasn’t for JRM, I doubt we would have ever heard much about young Keselowski.
Keselowski’s first year of Cup may not have been to the standards some had hoped for, but it did however have exciting moments: the Carl Edwards feud, and of course no one can forget the “Kyle Busch is an ass” comment at Bristol. But the most important outcome of his first season with the team was getting Roger Penske his first Nationwide Series championship.
2011 saw the emergence of a new Brad Keselowski. Moving to pilot the Blue Deuce, a car that had a long history of pride and winning drivers, Keselowski became the focus of everyone’s attention. Unfortunately, his newfound fame became somewhat of an issue for me. As someone who had followed him since his first days at JRM, I became annoyed with the bandwagon fans who suddenly started singing his praises once he was winning. The fans who were cheering for him on Sunday were the same folks who had hated him in his early days in NASCAR. Even though I never quit on something or give up on people, I started to pull back my support for the driver I once considered one of my favorites.
2011 may have been a big year for Keselowski, but it was also a very big milestone for me. I was a recent high school graduate, and my gift was tickets to the June race at Kansas. Bringing my best friend Molly just added to the excitement of the race. The smell of oil and burning rubber makes me feel like I’m where I belong - at the track. It was at that race my thoughts toward Keselowski returned to the good. Being in attendance for a Keselowski win made me realize that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop pulling for him to succeed in Sprint Cup racing. Watching him do the victory burnout with the American flag was beautiful and made my heart soar. Seeing him win in person made me realize I shouldn’t stop liking him as a driver just because he was now on everyone’s radar. If anything, I should be proud to have been a fan before he was in the spotlight.
Seeing a driver I liked win a race was an amazing feeling, but it had no hold compared to seeing him win the 2012 Sprint Cup championship. It was an emotional roller coaster and I felt the tears. The “I told you so” feeling just made me remember those good ol’ JRM days. The days of the goatee, the thrilling wild Talladega finish with James Finch and Phoenix Racing. But let’s not forget the broken ankle, the full on emotional Pocono win, and from there history. A broken ankle couldn’t stop Brad Keselowski last year, and nothing was going to stop him this year from taking that championship home - not even Johnson’s failed attempts at mind games. Many said Keselowski would choke, that he’d have to lose it before he could win it. But losing just isn’t in his vocabulary.
I knew I saw something in Keselowski the first time the announcers said his name. The talent and passion he shows behind the wheel are only a few of the things that make him a champion. Or maybe it’s just his attitude of never backing down that makes him a true champion in my eyes.