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Brad Keselowski 2013 preview

January 21, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Brad Keselowski 2013 preview
2012 Sprint Cup Series champion is looking for a repeat

It finally hit Brad Keselowski on the night of the Sprint Cup awards ceremony, when he looked up at the walls of the banquet hall and saw banners commemorating each of NASCAR’s premier series champions -- himself included.

Brad Keselowski

No. 2 Miller Lite Ford

2012 rank

1st

Team

Penske Racing

Crew chief

Paul Wolfe

Biggest change for 2013 is...

Switching manufacturers from Dodge to Ford. Also a new teammate in Joey Logano, who takes over the No. 22 car.

Watch out for...

The natural growing pains that can accompany a change in manufacturer, particularly at a time when the series is breaking in new cars. Also, keep an eye out for the letdown that can follow a team winning a championship for the first time.

Will win the title if...

Keselowski’s new Fords are as fast and reliable as his Dodges were last year; the communication between driver, crew chief and owner continues to flow effortlessly; and the aggressive team’s hallmark strategy gambles keep paying off.

2012 was...

Watch the video below for Brad Keselowski's 2012 season in review.

That was the moment; the peak of a thrill ride that also encompassed celebrating with a big beer glass after the clincher at Homestead, hoisting that sterling silver trophy, and giving an extemporaneous speech that showed humility and leadership at the same time.

“Every step of the way has made me feel like I want to win again,” the new champion said that night in Las Vegas, “so I can experience this again.”

Now the task turns to just that: defending a first championship that took Roger Penske over 20 years to win. Keselowski once again has savvy crew chief Paul Wolfe still by his side and has the ear of his car owner now more than ever. But over the last two decades, just three drivers have repeated as champion: Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. In 2013, Keselowski is aiming to place himself in a circle even more exclusive than the one reflected in those banners on the banquet hall walls.

Keselowski often speaks of providing Penske with lists of ways he thinks the team can be made better. At the top of his list for this coming season? Keeping everyone motivated after winning a title.

“It’s really tough for any championship team to be able to keep all of the people motivated because you’ve achieved a goal,” Keselowski said. “I think everybody starts out their career wanting to be a champion and wanting to be the best and that keeps you motivated, but once you get that, it’s easy to lose your motivation and we have to find ways to motivate ourselves. The best employees we have at Penske Racing are always going to be self-motivated, but, also, we have to find ways to make sure that there is no temptation to lose that motivation, and I think that’s probably one of the biggest challenges we have.”

There are a few changes at Penske that may help in that regard. Joey Logano takes over a No. 22 car that’s had three different drivers in the previous two years. The team also switches manufacturers from Dodge to Ford, a move Keselowski believes “gives us something to prove all over again.” As the lone Dodge entry, Keselowski won five times and claimed the title. Now, Penske is part of a Ford camp that includes three other teams, all of those under the Roush Fenway umbrella. Early on, the driver likes what he sees.

“I think the level of engagement from the Ford camp is very, very high, which is extremely encouraging, and that’s from the top on down,” Keselowski said. “That makes me feel more confident than anything else, because at the end of the day this is a people sport. … As it stands right now, I’m very happy with that desire and passion we share as a team, and from the manufacturer perspective as well. That commitment is across the board, and it feels really good, and makes me feel like the potential is there to be just as good, if not better than ever.”

See the full schedule of our top 12 Sprint Cup Series drivers and read more below:

12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.

11. Martin Truex Jr.

10. Jeff Gordon

9. Tony Stewart

8. Kevin Harvick

7. Matt Kenseth

6. Denny Hamlin

5. Greg Biffle

4. Kasey Kahne

3. Jimmie Johnson

2. Clint Bowyer

1. Brad Keselowski