Brad Keselowski: 5 Reasons He's NASCAR's Next Big Thing
It's been over 20 years since Roger Penske and the Miller Brewing Company began their famous alliance in NASCAR competition, campaigning the famous No. 2 car starting in 1991. Since then, 51 of Penske's 71 wins as an owner have come from the drivers of that car, mostly at the hands of Rusty Wallace.
But since taking over the wheel of the Blue Deuce last season, Brad Keselowski has firmly established himself as the famous car's future—and NASCAR's next big star.
Keselowski has scored six wins since the start of last season, including a series-leading three this year, and he finished fifth in points last year. He's on track for his second consecutive Chase for the Sprint Cup appearance, and he has the talent and momentum to challenge for this year's title.
So what's been behind Keselowski's mercurial rise to the top of the NASCAR heap? Here are five reasons why you'll be hearing his name for years to come.
Keselowski comes from a racing family: father Bob won the 1989 ARCA championship and ran in what is now the Camping World Truck Series during its early years. Brad started his career with the family team before bouncing around a few underfunded rides.
A strong performance in a Truck race at Memphis in 2007 prompted Dale Earnhardt Jr. to put him in JR Motorsports' Nationwide Series car, a partnership that resulted in six wins and two third-place finishes in the championship. It also earned him a limited schedule of Sprint Cup races in 2009, splitting time driving for Hendrick Motorsports and Phoenix Racing.
Keselowski made a name (and rivalry) for himself pretty quickly at the Sprint Cup level when he spun Carl Edwards to score his first career win at Talladega in 2009. Edwards' car went flying into the catchfence, and he's arguably been a different driver ever since; after a nine-win season in 2008, Edwards has only won three races since the accident.
Keselowski added to his growing legend last season after breaking his ankle in a testing accident at Road Atlanta. He responded by scoring finishes of first, second, third and first, propelling him from 21st in points to 11th and into Chase contention.
When this year's Daytona 500 was delayed by Juan Montoya's freak jet dryer accident, Keselowski kept fans entertained by posting updates on Twitter from the track, tripling his followers in the process. He keeps his phone in his car at all times; that way, he can tell his mother that he's alright after an accident.
On a normal day, Keselowski tweets frequently, responding to fans and retweeting various accounts.
Keselowski is also well-known for driving around with an American flag in hand while doing burnouts after winning races. Popular with much of the sport's fanbase, it's one of the sport's finest signature celebrations, on par with Kyle Busch's bow and Carl Edwards' backflip.
Few drivers in NASCAR are more befitting their sponsor than Keselowski and Miller Lite. Always loose and conversational, and especially always entertaining, he's been appearing in commercials for Miller Lite's punch-top can this season.
There are plenty of other reasons to appreciate Keselowski, who pays his own driver development opportunities forward by running his own Camping World Truck team. Penske development driver Parker Kligerman drives for Keselowski, while the two split the dominant No. 22 ride in the Nationwide Series.
At age 28, Keselowski is younger than most of NASCAR's other stars. Roger Penske has him, Miller Lite and crew chief Paul Wolfe under contract through 2015, giving them plenty of time to keep building chemistry and improving every year, but that contract will only take him to age 31.
Beyond that, the possibilities are endless. By 2015, Keselowski may have a Sprint Cup to add to his 2010 Nationwide Series title, enough to establish himself as one of the sport's finest drivers.
With a few more good seasons and a couple of championships—which, judging by his performance with Penske, shouldn't be out of reach—and Keselowski may someday retire as one of the best drivers of NASCAR's modern era.