Well-traveled champion touches on variety of topics
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- If there’s a certain mold from which NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions are cut, no one has told Brad Keselowski.
The Penske Racing driver, the most recent winner of the coveted Sprint Cup trophy, is certainly his own man, doing things his own way and to some extent still figuring out exactly what that way happens to be.
It’s new territory for Keselowski, who appears to be both candid and comfortable in his new role. He’s willing to weigh in on just about any subject, and equally capable of turning the tables and becoming the inquisitor.
Taking his turn behind the microphone Feb. 14 during the NASCAR Media Day Fueled by Sunoco at Daytona International Speedway, Keselowski touched on a wide range of subjects, from his role as representative for the sport to his penchant for social media.
The buzz generated by his 2012 tweet in the aftermath of Juan Pablo Montoya’s crash in the Daytona 500 -- a social media first for professional sports -- wasn’t pre-planned. Nor, he said, did he anticipate the response, which included a spike of 120,000 followers on the social media site Twitter.
“When that moment happened at Daytona, I just did it,” he said. “I didn’t think much about it. I thought it was something different and wanted to take a picture of it and send it out. If I tried to calculate that, I never could in a million years.
“I had no idea that the race would be red-flagged for a fire and that it wouldn’t be my car but a car in the distance and a huge explosion. … You can’t plan those things. What you can do is put yourself in a position to showcase how you feel about things. … I think that when you do things out of that spot in your heart and mind that are authentic, it showcases who you are and what you think is cool. Other people appreciate that.”
A five-time race winner a year ago, Keselowski, 29, rode a pair of victories and eight top-10 finishes in the final 10 races to capture his first Cup title as well as the first for team owner Roger Penske.
Fifth in the final point standings a year earlier, few tagged the Michigan native as a serious threat for the title before the 2012 season got under way. But just as he had done the previous year when two of his three wins came after suffering injuries during a crash while testing, Keselowski proved more than capable. His message? Don’t underestimate his talents, or those of his team led by crew chief Paul Wolfe.
Comparisons have put him in a category with drivers of another era, more old school than high tech. Keselowski, though, said he isn’t so sure.
“I have my own way of doing things and there is a little pride thinking that some of that is back to the way some of the people earlier in the sport did it,” he said. “I think you have to fight to be relevant and you can’t do things that were done in the past and feel like you are going to be relevant to today's fans. I think you can find a balance for that and I think that is what drives me in a lot of things I do. …
“You have to be relevant but you also have to stay connected to your roots. That is kind of speaking out of both sides of you mouth, but that is what our sport needs and what our fans expect.”
NASCAR’s Sprint Cup season gets under way Feb. 16 at Daytona with the running of The Sprint Unlimited, a 75-lap non-points race for which Keselowski failed to qualify. He doesn’t fault the format, admitting that “We didn’t earn our spot and we don’t play. It’s pretty simple.
“We spend our time and energy working on what we could do to win the championship, not winning a pole. If I could choose being in the (race) or winning the championship I would take the damn championship 100 out of 100 days.”
As for representing the series as champion, Keselowski said it isn’t something that he has spent a lot of time thinking about. No more, at least, than before he rose to the top of the sport.
“I am going to do my own thing,” he said. “If it works great and if not, then whatever. I am going to be my own person and look out for what is best for the sport. I have always felt that way, whether I was a champion or not.
“I feel like every driver has a responsibility to make the sport better and all it can be. I might have a louder voice now, but I took it seriously before I was a champion."