Keselowski could deliver Penske’s 1st NASCAR title
AP Sports Writer
TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) – For all his success in Indy-style racing, it’s hard to believe that Roger Penske has never won a championship in NASCAR.
Brad Keselowski hopes to change that at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend.
Keselowski has a 485-point lead in the Nationwide series standings over his frequent on-track sparring partner, Carl Edwards, and can clinch the title by finishing 21st or better.
Noting that the Penske Racing shop has plenty of photos on the walls of Penske holding open-wheel championship trophies with various star drivers, Keselowski wants to give the auto industry titan another moment suitable for framing.
“It’s unbelievable that there’s not one with him holding a (NASCAR) championship trophy,” Keselowski said. “When I came to Penske Racing, that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to win them a championship. And it looks pretty good.”
With the championship all but clinched with three races left in the season, Keselowski says he can’t stop running through worst-case scenarios in his mind. What if he stumbles as he gets out of his rental car and breaks a leg?
“Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” Keselowski said. “They’re ready. There’s like a crack in the egg. But they’re not hatched yet.”
If Keselowski is being extra careful as he steps out of rental cars, he won’t take the same approach when he hits the track this weekend. Aggressive driving has become the 26-year-old driver’s calling card, and he won’t be aiming to just finish 21st on Saturday.
“You know me,” Keselowski said. “I’m not going to cruise, that’s for sure.”
Keselowski’s teammate in the Sprint Cup series, Kurt Busch, said just winning the drivers title isn’t enough.
He’s pushing Keselowski to also take the owner points championship, which is scored separately from driver points and currently is led by the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing car driven by Busch’s brother Kyle and Brad Coleman.
“We’ve got to have Brad do even better than those Gibbs guys, because it seems like the Gibbs guys have the overall owners championship lead right now, where Brad’s got the driver’s championship lead,” Busch said. “So it would be a sad day – I mean, it’s not going to be sad, I hope Brad wins it, I hope he wraps it up at Texas next week – but we still have to have him push hard for Roger to get him his championship.”
Winning a championship would be a big step forward for Keselowski, a talented young driver best known for his high-profile run-ins with Edwards. For all his success in Nationwide, Keselowski has struggled on the Cup circuit this season, where he’s 25th in the points.
In Keselowski’s mind, winning the Nationwide title will salvage his season.
“I think winning the championship on the Nationwide side kind of keeps my stock level, where if I just had solely the Cup side to be judged off of, a lot of people would say it’s dropped,” Keselowski said. “It kind of levels it back out, which is something that I appreciate.”
And it might help his team in the long run.
“This sport’s about attracting top people to your team,” Keselowski said. “Pit crew (members) or mechanics, spotters or whatever. And when you win, and when your stock’s at a high level, it’s easier to do that. It’s easier to get the 12-second tire changer.”
Nationwide was off last weekend, and Keselowski finished a solid 10th at Talladega Superspeedway in the Cup series.
It was at Talladega that Keselowski first gained national attention, winning the April 2009 race after bumping Edwards on the final stretch and sending his rival’s car flying into the catch fence in a frightening crash.
Keselowski believes that moment, more than anything else he has done in racing, attracted the sponsorship of Miller Lite – which will sponsor Keselowski in Cup next year instead of Busch.
“I wish that I could say that I had it planned that way,” Keselowski said. “But I really didn’t. I would have much rather just passed him cleanly and won the race.”
It was the first step in what would become a sizzling rivalry between Keselowski and Edwards. Keselowski has no regrets, remembering the times early in his career when he would come up just short of a win and be told by the guy who beat him that he’d always have another chance.
“When that moment came at Talladega here last year, the same thing ran through my mind,” Keselowski said. “If I lift or I’m below the yellow line, give in any way, the same thing’s going to happen. That person, and it was Carl in this instance, would say, ‘Hey man, appreciate you letting off (the gas), you didn’t have to do that, don’t worry about not winning a race, you’ll get other chances.’ Well, you don’t know that. Yeah, it worked out for me another couple of times, but you have no idea whether that’s going to happen or not. And maybe it was that moment right there, deciding not to compromise, that got me to where I’m at.”