by Ryan Isley
Brad Keselowski was once known as the young up-and-coming, fun-loving, beer-guzzling NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Now, he is simply known as a “dipshit,” to quote Jeff Gordon.
Once again this past Sunday, it was Keselowski who found himself in the middle of controversy and flying fists, as it was his move on the racetrack that sent Gordon into the wall and may have cost Gordon not only a win, but a spot in the Championship Round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup in two weeks.
With Gordon battling Jimmie Johnson for the lead on the green-white-checkers restart, Keselowski thought he saw an opening (according to him) and tried to squeeze between the two Hendrick Motorsports drivers. Keselowski and Gordon made contact with each other, which caused a tire on Gordon’s No.24 Chevrolet to go down and eventually sent Gordon into the wall and a 29th-place finish.
Of course this infuriated Gordon, who confronted Keselowski on pit road after the race. With the help of a stealthy Kevin Harvick, who pushed Keselowski from behind so Gordon could reach him, chaos broke out between drivers and crews. Harvick told reporters that he got involved because it was time for Keselowski to deal with the backlash from his actions.
If this sounds familiar, it should. It was just three weeks ago at Charlotte that Keselowski was fined $50,000 and was put on probation for four races after getting into an on-track altercation with Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth and then on pit road with Tony Stewart. That day, it was Hamlin and Kenseth who went after Keselowski, with Kenseth jumping him from behind because Keselowski wouldn’t face the music.
It’s sad, really. We should be talking about Keselowski as the next great driver in the sport. When his name comes up, we should be talking about the guy who might be able to take the reins from guys like Gordon, Stewart and Johnson. After all, he has a championship and 16 wins already in his career. In the last four seasons, he has won 15 races in the Sprint Cup Series, including a series-high six this season so far. The guy can flat out drive a race car. But the guy can also flat out be well, a “dipshit.”
Keselowski has never been the one to conform to the norm, one who follows the rules as they are stated. He wants to play by his own edict, whether others like it or not. He has never been afraid to be different, as was evident by his drinking Miller Lite out of an oversized beer glass on ESPN when he won that 2012 championship.
That’s just who he is. Brad Keselowski, rebel.
But when you want to be your own person and do things on your own terms, sometimes you need to be man enough to stand up and admit when you were out of bounds. This is not what Keselowski is about, however. Brad sees things the way Brad wants to see them and if the other 42 drivers see it differently, well that’s just too bad. For most drivers, that’s wherein the problem lies.
It seems as if most drivers are growing tired of the antics from the 2012 champion and are not going to put up with it anymore. Keselowski’s response always seems to be that he is just racing hard and that in the old days, this is how things were done. Rubbing is racing, if you will. While it may be true that racing was more aggressive back in the day, the racing then was also done with respect. That is something Keselowski races without, and something he doesn’t seem to have from his fellow drivers.
You see, Keselowski wants to be the new Dale Earnhardt. He wants to drive like a hard-nosed son of a gun who will do whatever it takes to win, competitors be damned. And that is fine. But when Earnhardt raced, he wasn’t afraid to answer to those who didn’t appreciate losing to him in whatever fashion they did. That’s one element that Keselowski has not taken from Earnhardt. Other drivers may not have always liked Earnhardt, but they respected him. Drivers today not only don’t like Keselowski, but they don’t respect him either. And that’s of his own doing.
Look at what has happened just in the past few weeks. Keselowski has pissed off Gordon (a four-time champion), Stewart (a three-time champion), Kenseth (a one-time champion), Hamlin (his ninth full-time season in Sprint Cup) and Harvick (his 14th season). That’s quite a list of drivers to have unhappy with you, especially in less than a month’s time. Maybe, just maybe, Keselowski needs to take some time for self-reflection and realize that his way might not always be the right way.
Of course, NASCAR isn’t helping matters, nor do they really want to do too much to try to help. That $50,000 fine and probation handed down after Charlotte? It was a slap on the wrist that probably came with a pat on the back and an “attaboy” from those in charge. After all, NASCAR reaped the benefits of being the focus of sports and news shows all over the country. And then they continued to reap the benefits this week, as ESPN led SportsCenter with the fight instead of NFL football action from the same day. They were able to have that because they never really punished Keselowski in the first place.
And when you don’t punish a rebel? They will continue doing what they do. NASCAR might come out and say they don’t condone the actions that happened on or off the track but (not so) secretly, they are elated by what is happening. They aren’t just happy because of the publicity, but they are happy because they can show that the new playoff format “works.” With all of the emotion and tempers boiling over, NASCAR looks at it as a success, rather than an embarrassment. Instead of people talking about great racing and who might win the championship, they are talking about who fought who and who is to blame. And for NASCAR, that’s just fine by them. Bad publicity is still publicity, right?
Keselowski knows this as well. That’s why he will never change how he acts or how he drives. And why would he if NASCAR allows him to continue doing it? He knows that NASCAR and his car owner Roger Penske have his back. With no resistance, there is no reason to change.
That resistance may come soon enough, however. But it won’t be coming from those who run his team or the sport – it will be coming from his fellow drivers. Keselowski will be a marked man this week in Phoenix. Fans know it. NASCAR knows it. Most importantly, he knows it. There are plenty of drivers who would have no problem teaching Keselowski a little lesson and keeping him from winning his second championship.
Knowing Keselowski, he would probably just chug a beer while blaming everyone else.