2012 Cup champ Keselowski is back wanting more
So much goes into the opportunity to lift that chalice in exultation – miles, years, good fortune and great skill – that winning a Sprint Cup Series championship is the achievement of a racing lifetime for those who make their living steering stock cars.
Even winning it once is permanently elevating, as evidenced by the likes of those who’ve done it. Guys like Rusty Wallace, Bill Elliott and Dale Jarrett. In their sport, all three are household names. Hall of Fame types. Revered, respected and remembered.
But to win a second title puts a driver into a whole other stratosphere altogether. And it’s company Brad Keselowski could find himself among come November.
“I don’t want to win one championship and that be it for my career,” said the 2012 Cup champ. “I’m not going to be happy with that. And I want to win another championship, but I don’t want it to be five or 10 years from now. I don’t want to be a guy that contends for a championship every three or four years, I want to do it each and every year, and I know that opportunity is here, and it’s present, and I want to make the most of it. I’m not afraid to communicate that.”
Keselowski has never been afraid to communicate his thoughts. He was the Nationwide Series’ most popular driver for three straight years in part because of his straight-talking style. He’s called out Kyle Busch during driver introductions on raceday, and he’s active on Twitter – even once tweeting from inside his car during a stoppage in the Daytona 500.
There are plenty of drivers in the history of NASCAR who are remembered for what they’ve said. But now the goal for Keselowski, who admitted recently that he’s trying to wean himself off his cell phone a bit, is to be remembered for what he did with the wheel in his hands. And this season is starting to look as though it might be a great opportunity for him to add to his résumé.
Roger Penske’s No. 2 Ford opened the year flying, finishing third in each of the first two races before winning the third, and assuming the points lead after the fourth. The next couple of months were something of a struggle, and Keselowski fell all the way to 11th in the standings – but he righted the course by winning the pole at Dover and finishing second in early June.
He was the runner-up the next week, too, and he went on to post an average finish of sixth over a five-week stretch that culminated with a dominant win that capped a muscle-flexing weekend in Kentucky. Keselowski won the pole, led 199 of 267 laps, and left with the checkers on the type of 1.5-mile track that can make or break a charge in the title-deciding Chase.
So when Keselowski emerged from his car to be bathed in Miller Lite, he noted that the night had a familiar feel to it.
“It harkens back some memories of 2012, which I’m very fond of,” he said. “Last year was a very humbling year for us, so I think I probably appreciate it even more. I appreciate the opportunity to have races like this and opportunities to run for a championship.”
Last year, Keselowski finished 14th in points, winning just once and cracking the top five only nine times. He can match that total if his car is among the first five to reach the Granite Stripe at the end of today’s Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and with the two wins, he’s already assured of being among those racing for a title when NASCAR’s top tour returns to Loudon in September.
So while sitting fourth in the standings at this point is a nice source of confidence for Keselowski and his crew, they know the real work waits in the months ahead, when the goal the driver has unabashedly set for his team starts coming into focus.
“I think when it comes to goals, when it comes to dreams and visions, you have to share them if you want them to become a reality,” he said. “I think my team has that same goal and that same vision.
“But I think we want to stay on that same page, and I want them to know that I care and that I’m focused on it.”
Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart are the only active drivers who have won multiple championships, so Keselowski will join them if he’s able to hoist the hardware at Homestead, and in further comparison to his contemporaries he’ll push himself a notch above Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch – the only other pilots to win a title since 2001.
Do it in this particular year and he’d also add his name to an incredible list of drivers who’ve won at least two Cups in a three-year span. At the moment, that list includes Johnson, Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, Joe Weatherley, Lee Petty, Buck Baker and Herb Thomas.
And, maybe soon, Brad Keselowski.
“I want to win another championship. I don’t want to just win one,” the 30-year-old from Michigan said. “I think I have the team to do it, with (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) and the guys. I have the owner to do it with Roger Penske, and the urgency is now.”