Brad Keselowski refuses to "back down" in quest for second Cup title
FORT WORTH – Some race car drivers fall into the category of act now, ask forgiveness later.
But if you’re waiting for an apology after being wronged by Brad Keselowski, don’t bother.
On Sunday, in the closing laps of the Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway, Keselowski saw an opportunity – be it ever so slim – between race winner Jimmie Johnson and fellow Chaser Jeff Gordon to take the lead.
“And I went for it,” Keselowski said. “It closed up and we bounced off each other and kept going. It was just a battle for the win.”
Gordon cut a tire in the incident. He was shuffled back to 29th and never recovered. Gordon vowed revenge before he climbed from the No. 24 Chevy.
Although he hoped to find resolution with Keselowski, Gordon acknowledged, “You can’t have a conversation with him.” The diminutive racer simply left battered and bruised after he was caught in the center of the pit road brawl.
The way he races, I don’t know how he’s ever won a championship and I’m just sick and tired.
“It’s emotion that is a part of this Chase and this format as well as towards people that make dumb decisions,” Gordon said. “He has been making a lot of them lately. That is why people have been running after him and chasing him down. It’s why his team has got to defend him over there because of what he does on the race track.
“The way he races, I don’t know how he’s ever won a championship and I’m just sick and tired.”
Get in line
Gordon was referring to the altercation Keselowski had last month with the traditionally mild mannered Matt Kenseth at Charlotte.
Keselowski was fined and put on probation after he made contact with the Nos. 11 and 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas on the cool down lap and then on pit road.
The kid is just doing stuff way over his head.
“He gets himself in this position and he has to pay the consequences,” Gordon added. “I’m going to race him the same way he races me. That kind of stuff is just uncalled for and I’m not going to stand for it.
“To them, I’m sure it’s a racing incident. But to me, it’s just a bunch of crap. The kid is just doing stuff way over his head. That’s just uncalled for. You’re racing for a win and a championship. You don’t go slam someone and cut their left-rear tire. If that’s what it takes, then no problem. We can do the same thing to him.”
Keselowski insists he’s not the type of driver that will dump another just to win the race. While there’s certainly been hairy moments in his career, such as his first Cup win where contact with Carl Edwards sent the No. 99 Ford into the fence at Talladega Superspeedway, Keselowski acknowledged it wasn’t intentional and neither was his run in with Gordon on Sunday.
I'm not Dale Earnhardt or (Ayrton)Senna...They would sit here and tell you they would go for that same gap. I'm not them, but I'm inspired by that, and I'm going to race that way.
The driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford maintains, “That’s not the way I race.”
“There was a gap,” Keselowski said. “It closed up. By the time it closed up, I was committed, and I stayed in it. That almost won me the race. It hurt somebody else's day. That's a shame. But the reality is there was a gap.
“You know, I'm not Dale Earnhardt or (Ayrton)Senna. I read how they raced, how great they were for this sport. They would sit here and tell you they would go for that same gap. I'm not them, but I'm inspired by that, and I'm going to race that way.”
Playing catch up
After a rear gear failed at Martinsville Speedway two races ago, Keselowski was doing whatever he felt was necessary to erase the deficit. He entered Texas seventh in the point standings, 31 points behind Gordon, who dropped to fourth following the second race in the Eliminator Round.
If I was out there wrecking guys to do it, that would be one thing, but a little bit of rubbing is how this sport was created.
“I am doing everything I can to win this championship racing at 100-percent and that is something I am not going to be ashamed for,” Keselowski said. “If I was out there wrecking guys to do it, that would be one thing, but a little bit of rubbing is how this sport was created and probably how it should move forward.
“I don’t mind getting raced that way and I don’t mind racing that way. I got a little rub there at the end too from the 4 car (Kevin Harvick) and that was just good racing. I am proud of our effort but just wish I would have been able to make two more spots out of it. We were very close and will keep fighting the good fight.”
Turn up the wick
In an era where most of the aspiring racers rely on sponsors and trust funds to advance through the NASCAR ranks, Keselowski feels like one of the fortunate few who made it in the sport on talent alone.
Sure, the third-generation racer enjoyed his own share of breaks whether it was an opportunity in the Nationwide Series from Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Cup rides from Rick Hendrick and Phoenix Racing. But for a kid who carried the responsibility of salvaging his family’s race team on his back – then watching it fail – the scars don’t disappear.
Last year I got away from being as aggressive as I was in 2012 and this year. I didn't make the Chase.
“The only way for a guy like me to break through is to drive the way I've drove over the last four or five years,” Keselowski said. “I think last year I got away from being as aggressive as I was in 2012 and this year. I didn't make the Chase. We won one race. That's not acceptable to me.
“I'm here to win races for Roger Penske and for my team. That means when there's a gap, I have to take it. If it requires a tiny bit of rubbing, that's okay. It's not anything I don't expect on the other side. Plenty of times where I got rubbed. It will go both ways. That's okay by me. I'm not trying to dish out something that I couldn't take myself.
“But these guys have their own code, and they race differently than that. That's their right. We'll go through these battles. I've gone through them before and come out stronger. I'll go through them again and come out stronger, a better race car driver.”
The 2012 Sprint Cup Champion has learned the hard way how to play NASCAR’s game.
Keselowski has learned to choose his words carefully as he’s watched his wallet lighten over the years and the breaks not go his way. The No. 2 crew never recovered in 2013 after the Team Penske cars were fined from rules violations at Texas in the spring. From the sidelines Keselowski watched the competition vie for the title while all he could do was play spoiler.
This season Keselowski came out fighting – on the track and off. He’s earned a series’ high six wins and led the point standings after five races this season. And on Sunday, he put his peers on notice once again.
“What I'm not going to do is back down,” Keselowski said. “I'm not going to get in the spot where I was in 2013 where, you know, I tried to be exactly what they all wanted me to be, because what they want me to be is a loser, and I'm not here to lose, I'm here to win. That means I'm going to have to drive my car, harder, stronger, faster than everybody out there. That's what I feel like I did today."
With the parity that exists with the Generation 6 car, the competition is closer than it's ever been. On Sunday, Keselowski took pride from starting 26th with what he considered "a 10th or 15th-place car" and nearly won the Texas AAA 500.
Keselowski credits perseverance for battling to a third-place finish. Sure, his attitude and driving style will likely attract detractors along the way, but Keselowski won't let that slow him down.
“The way I raced today is what I would define as great racing that defined this sport and I hope it will continue to define it for years to come," Keselowski said.
“If a guy like me caves, whether it's Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, list out the drivers that I've had run‑ins with, whenever they try to push back on me, if I cave, that will end that run in this sport, and that will be a shame. That would be a shame for everybody. It would be a shame for the history of this sport. It would be a shame for the fans that come here to see us race 100%. That's what I did today. For that I'm not going to be ashamed.”