Hoping success doesn't spoil 'bad ass' Keselowski

Jerry Bonkowski

Even if he weren't Polish, I'd still like Brad Keselowski.

And no, neither that statement nor Keselowski's driving ability is a Polish joke.

There's just something about this kid that makes him stand out from every other young driver out there on the NASCAR circuit today, be it Sprint Cup, Nationwide or Camping World Trucks series.

The group of guys that I have on this Miller Lite Dodge are just bad asses. They are. They're bad asses.

Brad Keselowski

He doesn't have the attitude of Kyle Busch. He doesn't have the extreme sports background or personality of Travis Pastrana. He doesn't have the painted toenails of Scott Speed.

Keselowski is somebody unto his own self. That's good.

But there's something about BK that's bothered me since he first came on to the Sprint Cup scene in 2008, something that I haven't been able to put a finger on until Saturday night's win in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

And then, when he was in his post-race press conference, it finally hit me:

Keselowski may be the most honest, unspoiled, shoot-from-the-hip driver on the NASCAR circuit today. He says what he means, even if it's not politically correct. He calls an ace an ace and a spade a spade.

Most importantly, success has done nothing to spoil the Michigan native. Whereas other young drivers that have achieved early fame have gone on to develop markedly different personalities than they had when they first came into the NASCAR community, Keselowski is as blunt and to the point as you'll find.

What's more, he doesn't care if he steps on the toes – painted or otherwise – of his fellow competitors. He doesn't care if the knee-jerk words that come out of his mouth might make some NASCAR officials cringe.

And that's e-x-a-c-t-l-y what NASCAR should embrace, to the point where "Bad Brad" has everything needed to become the next new face of NASCAR.

Forget about Dale Earnhardt Jr. He's been the sport's most popular driver the last 10 years running. Passé.

Forget about Danica Patrick. She still has a lot to prove, not to mention a reputation and attitude lingering from her IndyCar days that still hasn't won over a lot of NASCAR fans. Still a work in progress.

But Keselowski, on the other hand, is the kind of driver that crosses and bridges all kinds of popularity lines in the sport.

He has, to use two of his favorite words, the "bad ass" personality of NASCAR legends like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Bobby Allison or Cale Yarborough, guys that never backed down from a fight.

Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing Dodge
Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing Dodge

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Name me one driver Keselowski has backed down from thus far in his career. He's gone head-to-head with guys like Carl Edwards and Clint Bowyer and held his ground.

And he'll be the first to admit that even when he was the new kid on the block, he wasn't going to take any guff from veteran drivers. It was that same attitude that he had after crashing his car on the first lap of practice Friday after an on-track run-in with Juan Pablo Montoya, and then having his crew be forced to prepare his backup car for Saturday's race.

"I don't like being pushed around, and I felt like what happened on the racetrack, that someone was pushing me around, and I don't like that," Keselowski said. "I hate that. I can't stand it and I won't stand for that. I can't stand it. I don't know if that creates a level of desire that makes us better."

Keselowski also has the youthful, hip personality that helps attract new fans – especially young ones that NASCAR covets so much. He's become the Twitter king of the sport – can we forget how, after tweeting during a red flag delay during this year's Daytona 500, he picked up over 100,000 new followers in about an hour?

Keselowski also has the cherub face, the blue-collar roots, and the refreshing brashness that we all saw when guys like the late Alan Kulwicki, Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch first came upon the scene.

But the big difference is that even with the brashness, Brad K. hasn't alienated some people like KyBusch or Dale Jr. has.

To give you an example of Keselowski's refreshing persona, consider some of these quotes from his post-race press conference Saturday night. They speak volumes:

--On his crew: "The group of guys that I have on this Miller Lite Dodge are just bad asses. They are. They're bad asses. I tell you what, they put together a back-up car from last year in 100-degree heat in an hour's time, not even an hour. It was like 40 minutes. I wish I had a stopwatch for that. Got it on the racetrack and got to run our laps for practice to make the adjustments we needed to be fast today. And that's what bad asses do, and that's what got us to victory lane today, and I'm proud of these guys for it. I'm proud of them. Damn proud of them."

--Joking with crew chief Paul Wolfe: "I called you a bad ass, and if I'm bad, that makes us all bad. … Teams, man. We're a team."

And then there was great Q&A exchange with reporters that further illustrates the kind of guy BK is:

Q) Brad, you seem like you never run out of energy. You're always bouncing around. Did the three events in a row (he ran the Cup, Nationwide and Trucks races this weekend) in this heat take anything out of you?

Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing Dodge
Brad Keselowski, Penske Racing Dodge

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

A) Hell no. Do I look like I'm missing any energy?

Q) You don't look like you could lose any weight either, but was it an issue at all for you (in the heat and in all three races this weekend)?

A) No, it's good. I feel great.

Q) Did you lose weight?

A) I don't know. I didn't weigh myself.

Q) What do you weigh, anyway?

A) Not enough (he said with a smile).

Q) So, no (health) issues at all?

A) No, I'm great, man. I'm going to sleep in tomorrow – but I would have done that either way (even if he hadn't of won).

And then there was an exchange with a reporter about his becoming the king of NASCAR – no, he's not replacing the legendary Richard Petty – but as the new king of NASCAR's Twitter universe:

Q) I see you checking your phone. How many tweets are you getting and text messages?

A) I couldn't keep up, man. Y'all are asking so many questions, I can't look down (at his phone). Do you want to look for me?

Q) I'll leave that to you (reporter speaking).

A) That's good, I like it a lot. I like how the fans engage us back. I mean, hell, that's what y'all (the media) are. You're the voice of the fans, right? Sometimes I've got the way to go direct to them and I like to do both. I think it's fun.

No, success has not spoiled Keselowski, and I hope it never does. The sport has a new gem right under its nose, and if he keeps doing things like he did Saturday night, the best-kept brash, honest and humble secret going right now in NASCAR is going to be a secret not much longer.

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Team Penske
Article type Commentary
Tags bonkowski, featured, kentucky, keselowski, nascar, nascar cup, sprint cup