Remember this January? When someone asked Brad Keselowski if he’d calm down the controversy? Late last year, his Twitter feed had begun to resemble Disney Channel standards instead of the steamy FOX News political debate he had once successfully produced? Things had gotten so G-Rated, “noted FOX Sports columnist Tom Jensen actually made a fair point”:http://msn.foxsports.com/nascar/story/taste-of-reality-nascar-s-law-in-order-approach-quieting-bad-brad-021214 Brad had been “muzzled” by some less-than-pleasant brushes with NASCAR, his peers, and assembled press.
“I don’t think it helped me,” said Keselowski back then. “Nobody wrote me any checks for being outspoken. Maybe I did it wrong … It certainly didn’t help.”
Turns out actions speak louder than words. Here we are, in the middle of May and Keselowski is back to his status as NASCAR’s bad boy, TKO’ing the Busch brothers with conduct leaving half the garage ready to punch him. A list of enemies is far-ranging, from mild-mannered Matt Kenseth to hyper-aggressive, R-Rated NASCARradio personality Kurt Busch. But while those drivers couldn’t be more different, their united anger towards Keselowski comes with a common theme. Both claim an aggressive driving style, the type that’s left Keselowski fighting for victories but also one that occasionally goes a step too far, packaged with verbal jabs that do nothing but fuel the fire.
Whether Sunday should be viewed as such as incident remains up for debate. Keselowski, after early contact with Danica Patrick saw his chances for the win go up in smoke. Six laps behind, he was dead last most of the race with Jamie McMurray, whose No. 1 had also been damaged trying to avoid Keselowski’s No. 2 car as it pulled a dramatic “half-save” from the tri-oval all the way through Turn 1. It was one of those tough days that, even under generous NASCAR rules left it near impossible for Keselowski to earn his way into contention and back up onto the lead lap.
Problem was, Keselowski’s car was capable of winning the race (his teammate, Joey Logano, led much of the afternoon in the No. 22). Riding in the back, with the chassis intact, became near impossible for a driver hard-wired for winning. That left the No. 2 car running wild, near the front gaining information while hoping against hope a series of late-race cautions would get him the Lucky Dogs and whirlwind him back into contention.
It would take near-miraculous occurrences. In the end, the only miracle became who avoided the No. 2 car when Keselowski, fighting hard at the front of the pack, lost it. A dozen were involved, including veterans Kenseth, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart who all saw their chances for the victory go up in smoke.
“I don’t know what his strategy was,” said Matt Kenseth after the incident, who called the driver’s moves “mind-boggling” in the same way Keselowski came after him following some Richmond contact, battling for the way. “[But] if it was the other way around and it was anybody else except for him, we’d all be getting lectured.’’
Gordon was just as ticked, calling the driver an “idiot” on the radio before taming his comments in front of television cameras.
“Not exactly sure why he was driving the way he was driving to begin with, but obviously he was trying to get his lap back and felt that was the way to do it,” said the four-time champ. “It was unfortunate what happened to him early, but more unfortunate what happened to many of us in that incident.”
What Gordon said Sunday, based on my polling of sources, fans, and others in the sport seems to be the majority. Yes, Keselowski has the right to race along with everyone else. Every lap, every position earns you another point in the NASCARchampionship. But there are plenty of people, from Kyle Busch to Carl Edwards who spent a large part of the day racing around at the back of the line. The chances of Keselowski leading the field to the caution, five straight times and getting laps back under the current set of restrictor plate rules is like saying Lindsay Lohan has a shot at the presidency. It ain’t gonna happen.
But Keselowski, one of the most intelligent drivers on the circuit, is also one of its most hard-headed when it comes to his own independent streak. Truth is, what we saw Sunday is the real Keselowski, just like the Ford Racing blog he’s written this year that details everything from a friend’s suicide, hampering him emotionally during last year’s bid for the Chase to a still-fiery rivalry with Carl Edwards. The driver has never been afraid to go his own way, taking it upon himself to build a reputation he hopes one day will rival the late Dale Earnhardt. No one is begrudging him that opportunity; after all, legends can’t be made unless they take steps no one else dares to travel.
But if Keselowski dishes it out, in the form of the verbal rants he’s given both Busch, and most recently Kenseth, he’s going to have to learn how to take it, too. I’m guessing after Talladega, in public and private this week there’s going to be a whole lot of Cup Series veterans dishing it back. The situation, which included Keselowski laughing during the TV camera interview after the wreck, reminds me of how an aggressive Ernie Irvan gradually irritated the garage back in 1991. Back then,NASCAR was a world of self-policing; after a Pocono wreck where Irvan, many laps down decimated the field he was apologizing, front and center at the Talladega race next on the schedule.
What will happen this time? We’re just not sure; the only fact I know for certain is the thought of a “politically correct” Keselowski died the second that No. 2 car turned around up front.
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