Brad Keselowski's Championship Is a Breath of Fresh Air for NASCAR

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistNovember 19, 2012

HOMESTEAD, FL - NOVEMBER 18:  NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Dodge, poses with the Championship Trophy after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 18, 2012 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Underdog changed into a Superman costume Sunday, and he didn't even need a phone booth.

Brad Keselowski, the self-professed underdog from suburban Detroit, someone who many considered the longest of long shots to win this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup, defied all the odds on Sunday by winning the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Sure, Keselowski got some help. He can thank Jimmie Johnson's pit crew for an errant lug nut that led to a costly pit road penalty, followed by an uncharacteristic mechanical failure that knocked Johnson out of both the race and the championship battle for good.

Yet for all the buts, ifs and woulda-coulda-shouldas, no one else's name will be engraved on the Sprint Cup trophy, and no one will go down in NASCAR history as this season's champion except for one Bradley Aaron Keselowski.

In less than four seasons on the Sprint Cup circuit, Keselowski has become a breath of fresh air in NASCAR. He comes from blue-collar roots, having watched his father enjoy success in the ARCA series, and has worked for everything he's ever earned as a racer (including the ultimate prize on Sunday). He presents a unique personality in the Cup series.

Keselowski is admittedly a bit raw around the edges, speaks a bit too much and too honestly and races other drivers harder than they're used to (causing many of them to complain), but he's also one of the best things to ever happen to NASCAR.

How many times have we heard from disenchanted or former NASCAR fans that the racing is too boring, that all the drivers are homogeneous and vanilla and that the sport is too corporate for its own good?

Those same fans may soon be lured back, and Keselowski could be just the bait to do it.

Let's hope NASCAR embraces Keselowski and his persona, rather than try and change him, because he could very well become one of the sport's true treasures.

And if he can bring jaded fans back to the sport, that only makes him even more valuable.

How many of those same detractors who have lost interest in the sport in recent years prefer to harken back to NASCAR's good old days—its formative years, when true men's men like Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and even the late Dale Earnhardt ruled the roost?

Without question, Keselowski is a throwback to those days, to the point where it's been said more than a few times that he was born 30 or 40 years too late and that he'd fit in just fine with some of the sport's early greats.

But this is now, and for as much old-school personality as he may have, Keselowski is the right driver at the right time to win the championship. And he has hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers to prove it.

He doesn't carry the perennial "wait until next year" hopes that Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans have had for their driver every year for the last 12 seasons.

He doesn't have the kind of turn-off attitude that Kyle Busch has, which has also likely played a major part in hurting Kurt's younger brother's chances of earning his own first Cup crown, as well.

And perhaps most importantly, the diminutive Keselowski may not have the size of a giant-killer, but he definitely has the heart of a warrior and the ferocity of one as well. He has shown numerous times that he won't take any guff or intimidation from any driver, be it Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin or several others.

During his post-race comments on ESPN, Keselowski recalled a comment from Ray Lewis of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens about not being the biggest or strongest, but he wasn't going to let those shortcomings keep him from becoming the best.

In other words, the mark of a true champion is heart, and that's exactly what Keselowski has a lot of.

While Keselowski has made a believer out of many naysayers or critics who felt he couldn't pull off one of the biggest championship upsets in NASCAR history, I'm sure there will still be some observers who will profess this to be a one-and-done event for him.

That he'll be like, perhaps, Kurt Busch in 2004, Matt Kenseth in 2003 or even Bobby Labonte in 2000—one-time Cup champions.

Sure, there's a possibility of that happening to Keselowski, but given what he's shown us throughout both 2012 and his relatively brief Cup career, that's not a realistic forecast.

With what he achieved on Sunday—as well as throughout the Chase and the entire season, for that matter—Keselowski has proven that he's for real in a big way and that he's here to stay.

For a sport that many feel has gotten too stodgy and stale, Keselowski may be the most unlikely but also most needed breath of fresh air that NASCAR could ever ask for.


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