NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski

2011 Ride: No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge
2011 Primary Sponsor: Miller/Coors Brewing
2011 Owner: Roger Penske
2011 Crew Chief: Paul Wolfe
2011 Stats: 36 starts, 3 wins, 10 top fives, 14 top 10s, one DNF (Daytona 500), four poles, fifth in points

High Point: Keselowski went on a stunning streak late this summer. In the nine races from the Brickyard 400 to Loudon he won twice, finished second twice, had a total of six top-five finishes and nine top 10s. (This despite his having shattered his ankle in a nasty testing wreck at Road Atlanta in early August). Keselowski was thus a surprise member of this year’s Chase class. Most people expected him to fade, but Keselowski emerged as a legitimate title threat for most of the Chase.

Low Point: The Chase race at Martinsville started Keselowski’s downfall. He was solidly in the top 10 until a last-lap wreck dropped him to 17th. He went on to finish 18th at Texas, 24th at Phoenix and 20th at Homestead. To add a cherry to the sundae, he also got fined $25,000 for comments he made about NASCAR’s switch to fuel injection in 2012.

Summary: I don’t think anyone would have tagged Keselowski as a driver who would finish in the top five in the standings before this season began. But we saw a new Keselowski this year. He matured on and off the track. Unlike years past Keselowski didn’t cause any outrageous wrecks. He was notably better interacting with the media, his peers, his team and fans even if he’ll never be as smooth as Carl Edwards.

The intense desire to win was still there (Keselowski will dominate the Nationwide highlight reels for 2011 with some spirited runs) but he now apparently has his temper on a leash. That maturation process helped produce a career defining season for Keselowski who has finally shown he’s ready to play in the Big Leagues and take on all-comers.

Team Ranking: I’d say after this season everyone but Kurt Busch is going to agree that Keselowski is now top banana for Penske South.

Off-Track News: Keselowski was named NASCAR’s Driver of the Third Quarter.

2012 Outlook: The team swap between the Nos. 2 and 22 teams and pairing Paul Wolfe with Keselowski in the Miller car turned out to be great moves. Penske’s operation is now the sole team running Dodges so any engineering help Mopar provides goes directly to them. No major changes have been announced that might upset the apple cart (which can’t be said for the No. 2 outfit’s sister team, the No. 22 bunch.)

My guess is Keselowski will continue to mature and with his newfound confidence he’ll go on winning races and competing for the 2012 championship. Brad and the team have been in the Chase now so they’ll be more battle ready to go for the big prize next year. And if they struggle early the team will just have to break Brad’s other ankle.

2009 Frontstretch Grade: A
2010 Grade: C+
2011 Grade: A-

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