Monday, November 19, 2012

Brad Keselowski's Championship Run Proves Hard Works Pays Off the Way It Should

In an era of racing where a lot of drivers get their opportunities because of money, Brad Keselowski's run at a championship is something that shows hard work pays off the way it should.

Brad Keselowski broke into NASCAR in the 2004 when he drove eight races for his dad's team called K Automotive Racing. In 2005 Keselowski ran the full season for the team, recording only one top ten finish in 25 starts. In 2006 Keselowski drove a few races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for the first time running for Keith Coleman Racing. Keselowski ran seven races in the truck series for his fathers team and the Mittler Brothers team. In 2007, Keselowski began running in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and had limited success with the small operation that was Keith Coleman Racing.  His best finish in 14 starts with the team was 24th at Dover International Raceway. By June funding on the #23 Chevrolet had gone away and the team was forced to shut down, leaving Keselowski without out of a ride.

It was on June 30, 2007 when Keselowski caught the eye of the NASCAR faithful and it would change Brad Keselowski's career forever. He got a one off deal with Germain Racing at Memphis Motorsports Park. He was filling in for Ted Musgrave, who was suspended for an altercation he had with Kelly Bires a weekend before at the Milwaukee Mile. For Keselowski it was a dream come true. It was a chance to prove himself in premier equipment. Germain Racing had won the Truck Series championship the year before with driver Todd Bodine.

Keselowski did not disappoint. He sat his #9 Toyota on the pole and was leading the race with ten laps to go when Travis Kvapil made contact with Keselowski and spun him out. He would continue but he would finish in the 16th position after leading 60 laps. It looked like Keselowski's opportunity was gone just like that, but little did he know a Nationwide Series team owner was looking for a driver for his car, and he saw what Keselowski did and was impressed.

That Nationwide team owner was Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt's JR Motorsports' team had driver Shane Huffman driving the first part of the season and only had four top ten finishes in 18 starts with the team.

When Earnhardt saw what Keselowski did, he replaced Huffman with Keselowski. Keselowski improved the results on the #88 Navy Chevrolet and had the car running up front for most of the events he ran in that season. Keselowski signed on the drive the #88 car for the 2008 season and won two races with the team and finished third in the standings. In that year he also ran his first two Cup races for Rick Hendrick. He won four races in 2009 with the team and finished third in the standings in the Nationwide Series, while running a partial NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule. He was running part time in Rick Hendrick's #25 Chevrolet and also ran a few races for Phoenix Racing. During that year Keselowski won his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway. It was an impressive piece of driving for the Rochester Hills, Michigan native and he was only just beginning. He would catch the eye of Roger Penske and move to that organization for three races for the organization at the end of the 2009 season.

The 2010 season was a struggle for Keselowski finishing a disappointing 25th in the standings with just two top ten finishes. However, in the Nationwide Series Keselowski would dominate, winning six races and winning the championship.  In the next off season Roger Penske would move Keselowski to the #2 Miller Lite Dodge as teammate Kurt Busch was moved to Penske's second team with new sponsor Shell-Pennzoil. Then Penske hired crew chief Paul Wolfe, who worked with Keselowski to win the Nationwide Series championship the season before, to be his Cup crew chief for the 2011 season.

And the rest as they say is history. Keselowski and Wolfe would his their stride together in the middle of the 2011 season and streak their way into the Chase via the wildcard spot. In 2012 the duo would win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, taking on Jimmie Johnson and the #48 Hendrick Motorsports team, considered by many as the best team in NASCAR history and beating them.

It was an impressive championship run for both Wolfe and Keselowski and for Keselowski it's a long way from Keith Coleman Racing five years ago. It just shows that hard work pays off the way it should in NASCAR.

Dan Benton

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