Brad Keselowski isn't just No. 1 now, he's likely to be that way for many more seasons to come.
While Brad Keselowski finished the 2012 Sprint Cup season with the championship, it was by no means the finish of Keselowski's success in NASCAR.
On the contrary.
The way he won the championship showed that he's just getting warmed up.
Keselowski proved not just during the Chase but throughout the entire season that he's barely scratched the surface of his talent and has the potential to become not only a force in NASCAR for many years to come, but also a perennial championship favorite.
Here are five reasons why Keselowski is just getting started, why many more even bigger and better things are still to come.
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He may be 28, but Keselowski has a talent that is far beyond his years.
At 28, Keselowski is one of the younger Sprint Cup champions. With his swagger and confidence, not to mention his natural driving ability, it's not out of the question for Keselowski to become a very dominant driver over the next 15 to 20 years.
Now that he's won the hardest championship—his first—going for subsequent championships may not necessarily be easier, but he now has a playbook and memories to look back on to help him in future quests.
Don't believe me? That's exactly what Jimmie Johnson did after his first Cup championship. How many times did we hear Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and team owner Rick Hendrick talk about the "book" that Johnson compiled over the years and how significant a role it played in each of his five championships?
Keselowski is no different. He and crew chief Paul Wolfe took copious notes. When it comes time to do one final review of what ultimately happened in 2012, you can be assured they'll also use those same notes to set a baseline for 2013 and beyond.
Going back to his age, Keselowski has proven he has the talent and capability of being a multi-season champion. He's won the first. Now it's time to start working on title No. 2.
Now that Keselowski has R-E-S-P-E-C-T, maybe he can convince Aretha Franklin to become a NASCAR fan.
There's a certain irony in the fact that soul music superstar Aretha Franklin lives less than 15 minutes from where Keselowski grew up in Rochester Hills, Mich., an area that you might call the other side of the tracks from Franklin's Bloomfield Hills, Mich., mansion.
But Franklin and Keselowski both share a common bond of sorts: the need for respect, Keselowski from his fellow drivers and Franklin for her huge hit record from nearly five decades ago (yep, the song, originally written by the late Otis Redding, was released in 1965).
Keselowski has struggled to find respect from several of his Sprint Cup rivals. He's had celebrated run-ins over the last nearly four years with a Who's Who in NASCAR, including Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and others. He's never backed down from a confrontation, nor has he ever let other drivers get the best of him. Simply put, Keselowski gives what he gets: if he gets respect, he returns it. However, if he gets guff, he gives guff back.
Winning a championship, though, takes things to a whole different level. Fellow drivers that might have thought Keselowski was a young punk who didn't deserve respect, may now have to change their tune—especially those who still have not won their own first Sprint Cup championship, guys like Harvick, Edwards, Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya and, of course, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
At the same time, Keselowski's championship just boosted the hopes for those same drivers who haven’t won a title yet: If he could do it, maybe it's their turn next.
Penske Racing has now moved into the elite class of NASCAR Sprint Cup organizations.
By giving legendary team owner Roger Penske his first Cup championship after nearly 40 years of trying, Keselowski has helped position Penske Racing to become the next big super team.
Think about it: Even though it's been around for nearly four decades in one form or fashion in the Cup series, Penske Racing has never quite been mentioned in the same breath as Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Richard Childress Racing and Roush Fenway Racing.
But after Sunday's championship win, Penske Racing just moved up to where it belongs, among the sport's elite teams.
And there's something else to consider. While Penske Racing has been synonymous with success and championships in other motorsports, the only way it got there was by winning a first crown and then building upon it.
That's why the company's first Indianapolis 500 wins spawned a total of 15 to date. Likewise with championships, after winning its first title, Penske Racing as a whole has claimed 23 championships across different series.
It's time NASCAR success was added to that legacy.
Youth was served in 2012 with its champions: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Nationwide Series), Keselowski and James Buescher (Trucks Series).
Keselowski's championship puts him front and center as the new face of NASCAR, at least for the next season as its defending champion.
But more importantly, Keselowski is exactly what NASCAR needs to attract new fans—especially young ones—as well as bring back fans that may have left the sport because of disillusionment or simply lack of interest.
Keselowski's old-school style of racing and his personality are a winning combination not only for him, but also for the sport. He's not homogenous or vanilla, speaks his mind and isn't afraid to tackle tough topics or call out other drivers or teams. He may not be the most graceful or diplomatic of drivers because of his youth, but that's something that also comes with age, experience and maturity.
That's why Keselowski will also become the leader of NASCAR's current youth movement, being at the forefront of guys like Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (who enters the Cup series full-time in 2013), Joey Logano, new trucks series champ James Buescher, Austin and Ty Dillon, Timothy Peters and so many more.
Face it, modern-day NASCAR heroes like Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick and others are starting to grow a little long in the tooth. They're likely not going to still be racing 10 years from now.
That's why it's time for the new young generation to step up and show its stuff, as well as be tested by the best of the best while they still have their top talent and ability with them. For, when guys like Stewart and Gordon eventually retire, today's young guys will then become the leaders of the sport—and be ready to take on the next crop of younger generation drivers and budding stars.
At the same time, with Keselowski racing against some of today's young drivers, it will only help to make him better and elevate his own game. I don't know about you, but I'm very excited to see what transpires over the next three to five years. It's going to be as exciting of a ride as the sport has ever seen.
Keselowski and Carl Edwards from a few years back, exiting the NASCAR hauler after being given a talking-to about playing nice on the racetrack.
If there's one thing Keselowski has proven in less than four full seasons on the Sprint Cup circuit, it's that he not only loves challenges, he's also up for each and every one that comes his way.
We're not just talking about him not taking any guff from another driver. Rather, Keselowski gets motivated and elevates his game when things other than winning a race are on the line.
For example, as this year's Chase wore down, the challenge became Keselowski vs. five-time champ Jimmie Johnson. And even though Johnson won at Martinsville and Texas before his untimely wreck at Phoenix and then the mechanical failure at Homestead that cost him a sixth title, Keselowski never stopped battling.
Even when Johnson regained the points lead after the back-to-back Chase wins, Keselowski refused to be intimidated or be looked upon as an underdog—even though many observers did just that.
Instead, with every new challenge that was presented, Keselowski lifted his game up to meet the challenge head-on. He never faltered, never gave up or gave in and, in particular, never got scared. He started tough and kept getting tougher with each new obstacle in his way.
Honestly, in light of what he did this past season, we're starting to wonder if there is any challenge that Keselowski can't beat. He may not be invincible, but the end results prove he's pretty darn close.