Brad Keselowski was far from a controversial figure 2 1/2 years ago when Dale Earnhardt Jr. signed him to drive in three Nationwide Series races for JR Motorsports.

Keselowski's NASCAR career had been nondescript. He didn't have a top-ten finish in 20 Nationwide races, including 13 in 2007 before his team, Keith Coleman Racing, suspended operations. Keselowski also had only one top ten in 42 Camping World Truck Series races from 2004 to 2007.

Earnhardt was looking for a driver for the #88 after releasing Shane Huffman and was impressed by Keselowski's performance in the truck race at Memphis in June 2007. With regular driver Ted Musgrave suspended for one race, Germain Racing hired Keselowski, who put the truck on the pole and was leading with ten laps to go. He was spun out by Travis Kvapil and finished 16th, but Earnhardt decided to give him a try in the #88.

Keselowski's three-race tryout became the rest of the season, followed by a breakthrough season with two victories in 2008 and four in 2009 going into Saturday's Nationwide season-ending Ford 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

It will be Keselowski's final race with JR Motorsports. He'll move to Penske Racing next season, driving the full Nationwide and Sprint Cup schedules.

"It's been an amazing year both for me and this #88 JR Motorsports team," Keselowski said. "I knew we had the potential and ability to get these four wins and top finishes all season, and it's been awesome to be able to actually do it. I can't thank everyone at JRM enough for all of the countless hours of hard work that's been put into this year.

"You can definitely tell that it's been a team effort all around. Even after I made my (Penske) announcement a few months back that I would be moving on, nothing changed. Everyone continued to step up. We all wanted to get more wins and finish as well as possible at Homestead."

Keselowski has 22 top-five finishes in the 34 races this season. He had eleven in the previous 69 in his Nationwide career. Keselowski is third in the points standings, the same position he finished last season, trailing second-place Carl Edwards by 60 points.

"While the championship is out of reach at this point, a win to finish out the season isn't," Keselowski said. "If things are going our way, we could also move up to second in the point standings. And I'd love to be able to do that for this team, our sponsors and fans."

Keselowski has done more than win races and run in the top five at JRM. He also has drawn the ire of several drivers, particularly Denny Hamlin, for being overly aggressive. Keselowski knocked Hamlin out of the way to take fifth last week at Phoenix. It was at least their fifth incidence of contact in the past two years.

"I'm just happy I signed up for next week's Nationwide race (at Homestead)," Hamlin said at Phoenix on national TV. "There's a lot of guys that owe him. There's a lot of guys that have a lot of chips that they're going to cash in. I'm just going to be the first one at the pay window."

Answered Keselowski: "I don't know what the deal is there. I'm really focused on going out there and running well. I don't hold any grudges."

NASCAR officials, including Chairman and CEO Brian France, had a discussion with Keselowski before last Sunday's Cup race.

"I've dug and clawed for everything I've got, and the only way to do that is by being aggressive," Keselowski said. "That's not to say I need to be aggressive every race. There's races where you need to play it cool and be smart."

by Tim Tuttle/Sporting News

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