News & Media

Caraviello: Keselowski hopes to let his results do the talking

August 27, 2011, David Caraviello,

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Without fail, Brad Keselowski hears two things from fans at every autograph signing he attends. People tell him to go wreck Kyle Busch. And people tell him they think Kyle Busch is still an ass.

Never have driver introductions helped mold the identity of a driver more than they have for Keselowski, who one year ago stepped onto the stage at Bristol Motor Speedway and -- still smarting over being wrecked by Busch in the Nationwide race the day before -- used his brief turn with the microphone to equate his adversary with a certain long-eared domesticated animal related to a horse. The impact of that moment hasn't been diluted by time, as Keselowski discovers every time he mixes with fans.

Behind the Wheel

In his blog for NASCAR.COM, Brad talks about driving to Bristol to clear his head and think about the weeks ahead.

"I get that at every autograph signing that I go to," he said. "Before I get the 'Go win this week,' I guarantee I'll get the 'This week I'm going to be in the stands, go wreck Kyle Busch.' You're like, 'OK, all right. I didn't want to win, I just wanted to cause a wreck this week.' So, it's kind of difficult and funny at the same time. You can kind of see some of the fans' passion that they have. It's very interesting. I want to have a fan base that likes me for who I am and what I do performance-wise. But I understand that there is more to this sport than that, and I don't try and hide from that. ... As I continue to perform better, I would like to think that I get more recognition for performance and that's a large goal of mine."

It was a difficult first season on the Sprint Cup tour for Keselowski, who managed just a pair of top-10 finishes in a Penske Racing car that often went without a primary sponsor. In the absence of results, an image emerged -- one of a scrappy, never-back-down driver who wasn't afraid to stir the pot or break it altogether. He needled rivals, he was involved in a high-profile feud with Carl Edwards, and on the race track as well as in the media center, he gave as good as he got. In the process, he became a somewhat polarizing figure disliked by those turned off by his brashness, embraced by those who admired his spunk.

That Brad Keselowski is still very much there, in all its unfiltered glory, as evidenced by recent comments he made on Twitter questioning Danica Patrick's marketing strategy and how it might undermine the prospects of female drivers in the future. At the same time, we're now getting glimpses of another one, a driver who this season has won two races -- as many as Edwards and Jimmie Johnson put together -- and unleashed a late-season surge that's threatening to transform him from wild-card hopeful to legitimate championship threat. Keselowski comes to Bristol searching for his sixth top-10 finish in his past seven starts, a level of consistency not all of the Chase contenders can boast.

"I've enjoyed it thoroughly, and I feel like, most importantly, the team, crew guys, etc., they deserve it. That's great," Keselowski said. "But I haven't gone out and bought a new houseboat. Nothing is guaranteed in this sport. A streak of good runs feels great, but it doesn't mean that it's going to continue. I feel like we have a good shot at continuing it and continuing the path."

He does that, and Keselowski might one day become known more for his exploits on the race track as his comments off it. Not that we want that original Brad to change, of course -- it's refreshing to listen to a driver who so candidly expresses himself, who isn't afraid to show fire and attitude, who raises Twitter to an art form, and yet does it all with a smirk that lends the guy a certain charm. Still, this is a performance-oriented business, and Keselowski is paid to produce results on the race track, and it's easy to see why he might want to be better known less for calling out a rival in driver introductions and more for wheeling the No. 2 car into Victory Lane.

Judging from his recent results, he's clearly getting there -- broken left ankle or not. And yet, perception can be a difficult thing to change. Driving into Bristol, Keselowski couldn't help put notice the big billboard erected by his car sponsor that bore the message, "Have it, Brad." Once a rabble-rouser, always a rabble-rouser. It's in his nature, of course, but part of it also goes back to working with no-nonsense crew chief Tony Eury Sr. during his days racing with JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series. It always helps when your boys have your back, a situation he says exists now with his No. 2 team just as it did then.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Bristol, we want you to upload your photos with captions of your stories from the days and nights at the World's Fastest Half-Mile.

"One of the coolest feelings in the world for me was when I drove the 88 Nationwide car and I had Tony Eury Sr. as a crew chief. Anytime there was any little ruckus going on, he was right there with the team ready to fight," Keselowski remembered. "And you knew that when he felt that way, which I had a pretty good read on his personality, you knew that he had respected what you had done and what you were doing. It was just one of the coolest feelings in the world. Sometimes we had to tone him down a little bit. It's just so cool to have a group of people behind you that just believe in you and more or less will stand up and fight for you. It's an honor. I certainly have gotten that feeling from my guys, which is really cool."

So now it's back to Bristol, back to the same stage for driver introductions, one more turn at the mic. What will Keselowski say this time around? Who knows. At the moment, he's not involved in any long-running disputes. He'll probably come up with something on the fly -- much like he did last year.

"I have a good habit of pulling something out at the last second. Certainly, last year was no different, and I didn't have that planned. Maybe it would be a better story if it were planned, probably not as good of a story. Obviously, the events of the night before, I was still pretty riled up from the Nationwide race. I felt like I had been done wrong. I don't feel any differently about that now. I think you know the rest of the story from there," he said.

"I don't know what I'm going to say to top that. I don't even know if I should try. I almost feel like it has its own moment, its own space and there was an authenticity to it that you'd hate to ruin just to have another moment, to have one when there's nothing behind it. I think moments like that, that are authentic, are moments that our fans appreciate. I certainly got a lot of reaction from that, and still do. I don't have anything really to say this year. We'll just have to wait and see."

Maybe this year, he won't have to say anything. If the past few weeks are any indication, Keselowski just might be able to let his car do the talking for him.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.