News & Media

'Ironman' tag finds unassuming Keselowski in win

August 08, 2011, Dave Rodman,

LONG POND, Pa. -- He won't talk much about injury, but those around him rightly sing his praises

Brad Keselowski's statement to the world Sunday was one of mental and physical toughness, commitment and teamwork.

Sounds like a military guy, doesn't it?

"And I say this to Paul [Wolfe, crew chief] and everyone on my team: nobody gives us anything. And they sure as hell didn't give us anything this weekend. This was an earn-it weekend. "


Keselowski, who has made a habit of carrying an American flag around race tracks as the centerpiece of his victory celebration, surprised no one by quickly dedicating his stunning victory in the Good Sam RV Insurance 500 to the soldiers who fell this weekend in Afghanistan.

And it turns out Keselowski's cousin is a U.S. Navy SEAL, and was good friends with one of the men lost when their helicopter was shot down.

That's just one more element of Keselowski's manned-up performance that elevated his feat -- on an ankle swollen to several times its normal size due to an avulsion fracture suffered just four days before -- to almost a superhuman level, at least by race-car-driving standards.

He didn't really want to hear it, any more than he wanted to hear any talk about him getting out, or being taken "out of my damn race car." It wasn't gonna happen, and on a long Sunday afternoon that included nearly a two-hour rain delay, Keselowski proved why.

Keselowski proved he was an effective liar -- or at least relatively human -- when he grimaced, took his left leg in two hands and propped it up on the empty chair next to him on the dais during his post-race media briefing.

He said he couldn't address the level of pain he'd felt, but admitted "laying in a bed for two or three days, the energy that you lose from that -- just complete zap of energy loss was probably the biggest thing I faced. I just didn't have any energy in the car.

"And I'm wearing a foot brace, which was helpful. But, again, you lose some things and it still hurt to push the [brake] pedal, but it didn't hurt as bad as it would if I wasn't [wearing the brace]."

At the end of the race, Keselowski had another wound, a ripped-open blister on his right hand from shifting because "I didn't get it taped because I forgot about that [while] worrying about my leg," Keselowski said. "It was about every damn thing you can think of, other than having to pee. But it's just the way it goes."

With no less of a superstar racer than Kyle Busch chasing him down, and with millions of dollars literally on the line thanks to the Sprint Summer Showdown, and with an unquantifiable amount of pain attacking him from all over, Keselowski prevailed.

On the first lap after the final restart with 16 laps to go, when Keselowski lined up on the outside of the front row next to Busch with two-time Pocono winner Jimmie Johnson right behind them, Keselowski was just over three-tenths of a second in front.

Five laps later, Keselowski was just over six-tenths ahead. His advantage reached .706 seconds with four laps to go, when the younger Busch put his head down and came at Keselowski, cutting his margin on the unofficial scoring monitor on every lap.

But in the end Keselowski, who on his cool-down lap said over his in-car radio, "I got nothing left in the tank," no longer needed anything. His .791-second margin of victory was all the proof anyone required.

"Everything kind of came together here," Keselowski said in the Pocono media center, where he once or twice seemed to drift in and out of distinct awareness of what he'd done. "We were able to overcome adversity, and I think when we look back at this, years from now, I think that's what I'll think about: overcoming adversity.

"And I say this to Paul [Wolfe, crew chief] and everyone on my team: nobody gives us anything. And they sure as hell didn't give us anything this weekend. This was an earn it weekend. And I've always wanted to win a Cup race and earn it -- not fuel mileage [like at Kansas], not Talladega [site of his first win] -- a real win. And today feels like that.

"And for that I'm real proud. And I can't wait to see what the next few months bring us."

By that time, Keselowski -- despite planning to get back behind the wheel of his Nationwide Series car as soon as he's able -- should be physically healed. His mental strength doesn't need much work.

The amount of respect Keselowski and Wolfe have for each other is unquestioned -- whether it's Keselowski citing his chief mechanic's intestinal fortitude in terms of the size of his reproductive organs or Wolfe paying homage to his driver, with whom he scored owner Roger Penske's first NASCAR championship in the Nationwide Series last year.

"He was pretty tore up this weekend and he was pretty tired after that break [red flag]," Wolfe said. "For him to get back in the car -- and it was all up to him on that last restart [because] whoever was gonna get out front in the clean air [would win]. He did his part and it got us in Victory Lane.

"With everything that happened this week, to see him in the car Friday brought to a whole 'nother level what he's capable of. When he's not 100 percent he's still as good as these guys and he can win races, and he did that [Sunday]."

So it's a little puzzling why Keselowski wouldn't come out and claim a Chase berth had been earned, even though his team is definitely coming forward.

With what he's overcome this season to get to this point, Keselowski -- who said he didn't question his stark ability to win Sunday any more than he does any other race day -- will hardly worry about that.

"Well, there's not really any time for emotions; it's been a hell of a week," Keselowski said. "I think winning two races is probably really good for our Chase hopes, gives us pretty high odds if we were playing poker, but nothing is 100 percent until it's 100 percent -- lots of races left.

"Maybe if we keep running like this, maybe we can get a third win and we'll be damn near immune, unless we fall out of the top 20. Going in the right direction with this 2 team, and proud of everyone on the Miller Lite Dodge Charger, this is a big win for us. This is somewhat of a validation, I think."

In the end, some people, like his Penske teammate and 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch, certainly didn't need that. But the older Busch brother wanted to be sure on this day that no one else forgot it.

"There are moments in our sport that need to be documented as an ironman-type day, as a day where somebody knew they weren't 100 percent physically prepared, but they went out there and overcame it mentally to win," Busch said. "I was amazed that he raced the full race, but this is a day that needs to be documented as Keselowski's win."

And a pretty darned amazing one, at that --- even if it was no surprise to Keselowski, whose father Bob [ARCA] and uncle Ron [USAC] had previously won stock car races here.

"When I woke up this morning I thought I was going to win the race," Keselowski said. "I came here to win. When you let the pain get into your head that far that you don't believe you can win anymore, you'll never win.

"And I woke up this morning feeling like we could win the race. And at the end of the halfway break, went into my motorhome, had my doctor with me and took care of me a little bit.

"I told him, 'All right, let's go win the race.' That's how I felt about it. If you don't feel that way, you're never going to win at anything you do."

Finalized Chase spot or not, Keselowski has already proven he's got the winning part handled.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.