|Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR|
Denny Hamlin was a contender: newly determined, highly focused, and connecting brilliantly with his 2011 champion crew chief Darian Grubb – a brand-new pairing for 2012. They earned five wins together in their first season – Phoenix, Kansas, the Bristol night race, Atlanta, and in the Chase, Loudon.
Tony Stewart, 2011 reigning champion, was surrounded by a hand-picked assortment of NASCAR’s finest and had a five-race win momentum to carry into 2012. He even ran strongly in the first part of the season capturing three wins at Las Vegas, Fontana, and Daytona for the 400.
Matt Kenseth captured the season-opener, the Daytona 500 and stayed near the top of the points the first half of the season, running consistently and well. Even when it was announced his partnership with Roush Fenway Racing and Ford was ending at the end of 2012, Kenseth and team pounded the competition winning Talladega and Kansas in the Chase.
Greg Biffle dominated as points leader for a long time in the first half of the season: 13 of the first 25 weeks including a 10-race stretch from weeks three through thirteen. He too was consistent, fiery, and determined. He even won at Texas and Michigan in the regular season.
Jimmie Johnson had been denied his sixth consecutive championship by Stewart in 2011. There was renewed vigor by him and his team to recapture glory. May through July, Johnson seemed on track to seal the deal taking Darlington, Dover, and Indy. He ran an impressive season and captured more wins – two back-to-back at Martinsville and Texas– in the Chase that had him poised to win the championship for a sixth time.
But I never chose any of these drivers as my pick to win the Cup in 2012.
My pick was Brad Keselowski.
On March 18th Keselowski captured his first win of the season at Bristol. He was obviously pumped. The radio program I created, “Drafting the Circuits” debuted on March 21st. It was then that I began stating Keselowski was championship material.
On May 6th Keselowski earned a win at Talladega. This superspeedway victory coupled with his short-track triumph showed how far Keselowski had come as a well-rounded racer. I began to hold firm to my beliefs that Keselowski was going to win the championship – and I made my pronouncement on air.
A win in Kentucky in June just fueled my early prediction.
Then Keselowski set to work in the Chase. He won Chicago and Dover and remained either first or second in points for the remainder of the Chase.
Truth be told, I like Keselowski. He is young, bright, highly motivated, talented, hard-working and respectful.
I am in the category of people who adores and appreciates when Keselowski takes a victory lap with the American Flag. His patriotism, reverence for our troops, and understanding that he is an entertainer and an athlete and not in the same realm as “hero” as our military shows me the maturity he exhibits for his young years.
Keselowski’s bravado, something his critics lambast, is necessary in racing at this caliber – any racing for that matter. To win one must believe one can win. A racer must envision taking the checkered flag and celebrating in Victory Lane. He or she must be able to perceive him or herself as a champion or it is all for naught.
When Keselowski won Roger Penske his first NASCAR championship in Nationwide in 2010 he was proud but mostly determined. He was focused on earning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship for his team owner and friend.
And now Keselowski has.
I watched with great interest Penske’s speech as the championship team owner at the year-end banquet. He was graceful, eloquent, and every bit the essence of his nickname “The Captain.” And he has a lot of respect for Keselowski.
It was Keselowski’s speech that I was most anticipating. And as I figured, he did not disappoint. Speaking without the awful teleprompter, Keselowski, like The Captain, was eloquent.
But what sealed my love for the man was when he uttered the following in his speech:
“It really didn’t hit me until I saw the banner hanging there. I can’t believe my name is somewhere near Dale Earnhardt’s.”
As an Earnhardt fan, that completely endeared him to me.
Like all things in NASCAR, this year’s champion has supporters and fans as well as detractors. But for me, NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski is yet another reason why I love NASCAR.
Chief 187™ is a writer, columnist, and blogger as well as creator of the widely popular Chief 187™ Chatter. Her column “Why I Love NASCAR” and other articles are featured on Skirts and Scuffs. She can be reached via Twitter by following @Chief187s. To find out more please visit http://Chief187.com.