19 November 2012
'The best is yet to come', promises Keselowski
Keselowski added that he's taken no pleasure from seeing Johnson's early exit from the Sunday afternoon race which had taken the pressure off him for the remaining 40 laps.
"I don't really enjoy watching hardships happen to my competitors," he said. "In fact, I hate that. I want to beat them on the racetrack. I want to beat them by being the best that we can be and out-executing them and winning on the racetrack. I don't enjoy at all watching things happen to my competitors that take them out like that. I can tell you that I wasn't cheering; how about that?"
The high point of the Chase duel between Keselowski and Johnson had come in a series of late race restarts at Texas at the start of November, which included the two of them making contact a number of times as they battled for the lead. It had been hard, no-holds-barred racing; but also fair, with even Johnson admitting that Keselowski had pushed right up to the line - but at the same time, not gone over it.
It was a remark showing a growing respect for Keselowski in the NASCAR paddock, after a bumpy start for the Michigan-born driver when he first graduated to Cup racing and seemed to make a point of rubbing people up the wrong way.
"I think I suffered from some serious confidence issues when I first came into Cup that were a result of, you know, a lot of things, mostly just not having the speed to be successful and trying to do too much," Keselowski admitted. "I was trying too hard to be the I in team, and there is none, and that's pretty obvious looking back now. But I didn't know that. I do now."
That left him lacking any allies out on the track, and it's hard to have a successful season in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing if there's no one out on track that a driver knows has his back and can be relied upon at crucial moments.
2011 proved a pivotal year for Keselowski. A serious mid-season accident in testing at Road America saw him airlifted to hospital with a broken ankle, and it seemed that his already fading hopes of making the Chase that season were well and truly over especially if he was going to miss out. Instead, he went racing four days later at Pocono - and won. It was the start of a purple patch of the season for him, one that put him in the Chase on a most-wins wildcard.
To Keselowski, that success proved to everyone and most of all himself that he belonged in Cup racing. He was finally able to shake off the chip that had been on his shoulder and allowed the quirky guy with the social media addiction to shine through in 2012. And the more he let 'Keselowski be Keselowski', the better the season went: no wild card was necessary for the Chase this time. Just 12 months before, Keselowski had been touted as a 'star of the future' but no one had ever thought that the future would arrive quite as quickly as it actually did. Even Keselowski admitted it had been a roller coaster few years for him, ever since that handshake with Penske led to a Cup seat.
"I can't believe how everything just came together over the last - what's it been, three years?," he said. "Has it been three years we've been together? Three years Paul and I have been together. We're two for three, Paul!"
Wolfe picked up the reminiscence: "When Brad and I first got together, part of the reason I was excited about working with Brad is because I had seen him win races in cars that I thought weren't as good as maybe cars I was putting on the racetrack at the time," he said. "As a crew chief or a team, that's always what you want, you want a guy that you know can win races when you might not have the best race car out there. I saw that in Brad.
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