Keselowski a special talent
7 October 2009
'Special K' is right up there near the top of the list of over-used sports nicknames, but it's a tag that probably will stick, sooner than later, to Brad Keselowski.
A handful of sports and entertainment figures already carry that soubriquet: Greg Kelser, Magic Johnson's team-mate on the 1979 Michigan State national champion basketball team; Kevin Daley of the Harlem Globetrotters; rapper Special K of the Treacherous Three; the Anaheim Mighty Ducks' Special K line that included Paul Kariya, Chad Kilger and Todd Krieger; and, most recent, Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno.
Keselowski will be the second stock car driver known as Special K. The first was the late Alan Kulwicki, the last independent owner/driver to win a Cup championship.
Whether or not the nickname is worn out, Keselowski is special, and Roger Penske made the deal of the decade when he signed the 25-year old to a full-time Sprint Cup contract that starts next season.
Sunday's Price Chopper 400 at Kansas Speedway was Keselowski's twelfth start in the Cup series, but he is no novice to NASCAR, having joined JR Motorsports as a full-time Nationwide Series driver midway through the 2007 season, and picked up his first Cup win in spectacular fashion earlier this year. In only his fifth Cup race, at Talladega in April, Keselowski drove to victory lane after holding his line approaching the chequered flag and sending Carl Edwards flying into the catch fence.
Whether on the racetrack or in the media centre, Keselowski sticks to his guns, in a manner that's more than vaguely reminiscent of the late Dale Earnhardt. Decisively and unapologetically, he will stick the nose of his car underneath a competitor's left rear quarter and, if contact results, so be it.
That kind of take-no-prisoners attitude is designed to win races, not necessarily to win friends. Just ask Denny Hamlin, who spun into the wall in the 26 September Nationwide race at Dover after the right front of Keselowski's Chevy and the left rear of Hamlin's Toyota tried to defy the laws of physics and occupy the same space at the same time.
“He has no idea how to race,” an irate Hamlin said after the race, “He'll get a ride and he'll hang around for a couple years, and people will realise that he's not really that good. He needs some guidance on what it takes to make it. Once he starts to get out there on Sunday, he'll realise that, in his younger years, he didn't do it the right way.”
Hamlin, however, is no Jack Roush - or Dale Earnhardt Jr, for that matter - when it comes to evaluating talent.
It was precisely Keselowski's aggressive style that convinced Earnhardt Jr to put him in his #88 JRM car when he was looking for a replacement for Shane Huffman in 2007. Keselowski was driving Keith Coleman's #23 Chevrolet in a Nationwide race at Atlanta while Earnhardt watched the race from a hospitality suite.
“I was driving this backmarker car, the #23 car,” Keselowski told Sporting News earlier this year, “There was a restart, and I had pitted with Tony Stewart. He came out right in front of me, or maybe two spots in front of me - I don't remember - so we both had tyres. They dropped the green, and Tony and I were working our way through the field.
“I went to the outside in turn three - I passed six cars in one corner, and he was one of them. It was a pretty cool experience, because I'd never really even been racing with those guys before. I'd been in races with them, but I'd never was racing with them, if that makes any sense.
“So, here I was in this backmarker car, passing the Roush cars and the Gibbs cars, and it just happened to be that Dale was in a suite in turn four. I think it was that moment right there - when he saw that - that kind of solidified in his mind that I was the right guy to drive the #88 car. It wasn't till I got that opportunity that I really got to go forward.”
Keselowski has made the most of his chance. Though his driving style and singleness of purpose may not be designed to make him the most popular driver in the garage, they will stand him in good stead when it comes to winning races and contending for championships.
And all the evidence suggests that's what Keselowski really cares about.
by Reid Spencer / Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service