Persistence pays for Keselowski

Persistence pays for Keselowski DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 4, 1998) When Bob Keselowski left the comfort zone of the Automobile Racing Club of America, where he won 24 races the and 1989 ARCA championship, Keselowski theorized the new NASCAR...

Persistence pays for Keselowski

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 4, 1998) When Bob Keselowski left the comfort zone of the Automobile Racing Club of America, where he won 24 races the and 1989 ARCA championship, Keselowski theorized the new NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series would be a nice change of pace combining reduced pressure with visits to parts of the United States he and his family never had seen.

It took roughly 10 minutes in the garage area of Phoenix International Raceway to debunk that theory.

Keselowski watched, awe-struck, as smartly attired crew members rolled trucks out of brand-new Featherlite transporters for the Feb. 5, 1995 series inaugural. Those haulers were the property, among others, of Richard Childress , Dale Earnhardt, Geoff Bodine , Ken Schrader and Rick Hendrick .

Whoa, breathed Keselowski, whose entire pit crew consisted of himself, his wife Kay, and brother, Ron, the team's crew chief. Their equipment was comprised of one unsponsored Dodge Ram truck, a couple of engines and a few spare parts. The team's well-traveled, cab-over tow rig was dwarfed by the mammoth 18-wheel rig parked alongside in the Arizona sunshine.

The bar, so to speak, has been raised to towering heights without the first race having been run.

Keselowski, however, had made a choice and he would stick with it, despite a season's worth of adversity and then some.

"All of my (ARCA) crew were volunteers, none got paid. I lost every one of 'em because they couldn't afford to go out west. It was just me, Ron and Kay," Keselowski said. "Then, on top of everything, I had kidney stones for six months. I didn't think I'd survive the season."

Keselowski did better than that, nearly pulling off an upset victory at Louisville, Ky. as he finished 15th in the tour's inaugural point standings. He also won $62,048 -- enough to bring back the Rochester Hills, Mich.-based team for a second season in 1996.

Fast-forward to Sept. 4, 1997, at Richmond International Raceway, where Keselowski, now a fully sponsored and Chrysler factory-supported competitor, has emerged from the cab of his Mopar Performance Dodge to celebrate his team's first victory in the Virginia Is For Lovers 200.

Persistence was rewarded, in spades, as Keselowski became the 10th member of the tour's inaugural starting field to win a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event.

The 46-year old Keselowski believes the past -- liberally sprinkled with sweat and tears -- is simply prologue for better things to come. He didn't exactly battle Ron Hornaday for the Chevy Trucks Challenge victory, when the 1998 season opened Jan. 18 before a near-capacity crowd at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Fla.

But the team's eighth-place finish was 14 positions better than Keselowski's best previous series-opening effort. He finished 22nd at Phoenix in 1995; 32nd at the Miami-Dade Homestead Motorsports Complex the following year and 34th, completing just 62 laps, in the 1997 Walt Disney World event.

The tour's next event, the Florida Dodge Dealers 400, will be held April 4 in Homestead, Fla. The race will be broadcast by TNN and the radio affiliates of the NASCAR Truck Network.

"In 20 years of racing, it's the first time I've come out on top in the (season) opening race," said Keselowski, who finished 28th on Homestead's 1.5-mile superspeedway in 1997. "Traditionally, we dig ourselves a big hole. You start 38th or 40th in the points and it takes you a half-season to dig yourself out.

"In this series, the guys in the top-five in points, they don't break down. It gets more and more difficult every year (to play catch-up)."

At Disney, Keselowski started 23rd and worked his way into the top-10 late, profiting from several accidents and faster trucks which ran out of fuel in the late laps.

"We were at best, a 10thy place truck, so we finished better than we should have," Keselowski said.

So, are Keselowski and Dodge -- which finished three trucks in the top-10 at Walt Disney World Speedway -- championship contenders in 1998? Keselowski would like to think so, but tempers his enthusiasm.

"I'd like to say yes but (that's if) we have our motor (development) under control. We will do a lot better (than 1997). We'll definitely have more top-10 and top-five finishes and we'll definitely be ready for 1999," Keselowski said. "That's when we're really going to be able to go for it."

Keselowski does expect to improve on last season's 14th-place championship finish. Prior to the Disney race, Chrysler hired former Roush Racing crew chief Howard Comstock as a consultant to the Mopar Performance team. Comstock, whose previous charge was NASCAR Winston Cup Series competitor Ted Musgrave, will assist Ron Keselowski with development in a variety of key areas.

"He can bring things to the table that we're still missing, such as with fuel stops and chasses," Keselowski said. "We're not lacking much, just a little fine-tuning."

Racing in the Nineties, especially in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series where just a third of a second spanned the top 27 qualifiers for the recent Chevy Trucks Challenge, requires a complete package -- driver, equipment, crew and sponsorship. No longer can a driver, regardless of talent, muscle an inferior vehicle into the winner's circle.

"At this level, everybody's smart and all the drivers are good," Keselowski said. "You don't get a break."

Keselowski believes the long-term outlook is for his once outclassed band of independent racers, as well as for Dodge, is excellent.

"Chrysler's in this thing to stay," Keselowski said. "We're not going any place, either. We're in it for the next three years."

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Ken Schrader , Ron Hornaday Jr. , Ted Musgrave