I remember the first time I heard of Brad Keselowski in April of 2009, when his big wreck with Carl Edwards happened at Talladega. When you wreck one of NASCAR’s most likable drivers, you’re going to get a lot of dirty looks. Yet, here we are in 2011, and Brad is one of the most popular drivers. With a laid-back attitude, outspoken demeanor, and an appreciation for alcohol, the driver of the Blue Deuce is a hit with the fans, especially on Twitter (@keselowski). However, even more importantly, this year was the first time he made it into The Chase, and his journey there was quite surprising.
Coming off winning the 2010 Nationwide Series championship, Keselowski brought over crew chief Paul Wolfe, hoping they could work magic on the Sprint Cup side. He switched cars with then-teammate Kurt Busch, placing him in the #2 with sponsorship from Miller Lite. He captured the pole for the Coca-Cola 600, and, a week later, he nursed his car to the checkered flag at Kansas Speedway. At that moment, I said to myself, “I think he could do something with this.”
Then, during a testing session at Road Atlanta, Brad had a violent wreck that broke his ankle (remember those Twitter pics? Ew). The car was totaled, and many wondered if he would race that weekend at Pocono. As always, the race was delayed because of rain, and the media was glued to the driver. Keselowski, making a statement in the spotlight, drove his car to the win. After two more top three finishes, he found himself in Victory Lane again under the lights at Bristol. This locked him into The Chase, where he was, mathematically, a threat until the Martinsville race. Although he fell short, he still surprised many with his resurgence.
Brad’s 2011 season is something to be impressed by, and not because he won while injured. I strongly believe he will be a chase contender this year, especially if he goes another season without getting into it with Carl Edwards or snapping a body part. There is something about Keselowski that tells me he’s going to make more waves. My honest prediction is that Brad wins at least three races, makes The Chase, and gets a shot at the title. Now, that sounds like a crazy projection, but, when you look at how much he has matured and strengthened, it’s closer than you think. He’s already won a championship in the second-tier series, and he has the crew chief that helped him achieve it. The only thing between him and The Sprint Cup is the other drivers, which he can overcome by driving as aggressively as he does now. Something that may throw him off a bit is having a new teammate in AJ Allmendinger. One other bump may be running Trucks races, but I doubt it will be a huge factor. Brad Keselowski is a great guy with obvious talent. His 2011 is a great resource to look to when making predictions for 2012. Now that he is the lead driver at Penske, he will sit in the spotlight, which he will use to his advantage.
Comparing the 2009 Brad and the 2011 Brad, I see major differences that make him stand out. He’s a far cry from the shunned driver he was at the end of that Talladega race, making fans laugh and appreciate his forceful driving style. Good thing, too, because he might be our next Sprint Cup Champion.