Top 10 NASCAR Driver of the Year 2011: 3. Brad Keselowski

Birthdate: 12 February 1984 Hometown: Rochester Hills, Michigan USA Team: Penske Racing Crew chief: Paul Wolfe 2011 starts: 36 Poles: 1 Wins: 3 Top 5: 10 Top 10: 14 Annual earnings: $5,087,740 Championship points: 2319 Championship position: 5th

A Nationwide series regular since 2006, Brad Keselowski finally won that series championship in 2010 - and it seemed to do wonders for his overall confidence. Knowing that he could mount a full season title campaign and come out on top was a lesson he was determined to carry into his Cup series work.

Up till then, Keselowski had been dutifully learning his craft in Cup racing but not really setting the world alight (he finished 25th in 2010.) He could also seen as a bit of a cocky driver and found it difficult to make lasting partnerships among the other drivers, as he strove to prove himself and demonstrate to others and moreover to himself that he deserved to be there. That all changed in 2011: the newly assured Keselowski was secure in his position and as a result suddenly found it much easier to relate to his Cup peers and heroes on an equal footing, and now everyone found that they got on rather better than they had before. Keselowski was in the clubhouse at last.

The only thing holding him back seemed to be the race car itself: it was not a great start to the year for Penske, despite team mate Kurt Busch's wins at the non-championship Shootout and Duel races at the season opener at Daytona. Busch's early delight turned into rants of frustration over the team radio as the season progressed, which while uncomfortable to everyone else (including Keselowski, a true Penske loyalist) did at least result in a shake up the team and produce victory at Sonoma. Keselowski benefited too: a third place at Darlington and then three weeks later Keselowski found his own way to victory lane at Kansas.

But soon things started to slide backwards again, and a Chase berth slipped out of reach. And then came his massive accident in testing at Road Atlanta which saw him airlifted to hospital with (among other things) a broken ankle: he literally limped into the following weekend's race at Pocono with virtually no hope of making the full race distance in the circumstances. Only in a fairy tale would that situation end up with him driving the blue deuce into victory lane - which he did. It was just the start of a terrific run for Keselowski: it was followed by a second place, a third place, and another win (at Bristol.) It was enough to put him into the Chase on the 'most wins' wild card and he had a strong run of four top six finishes in the post-season playoffs before finally his momentum deserted him and he ended up having to settle for fifth place in the championship.

Even so, it was a breakthrough year for Keselowski and he thoroughly deserves the high rating that readers have given him in the NASCAR Driver of the Year vote. In fact, Brad's coming of age may even have been instrumental in team boss Roger Penske feeling that he could now do without the troublesome Kurt Busch in 2012 altogether, since with Keselowski now looks to have a real champion of the future in the #2 just ready to go for it.

Top 10 NASCAR Driver of the Year 2011 results so far:

4. Matt Kenseth 5. Kevin Harvick 6. Jeff Gordon 7. Marcos Ambrose 8. Jimmie Johnson 9. Kasey Kahne 10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.


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