Rick Hendrick says that Brad Keselowski is the future of Hendrick Motorsports.
Yes, Brad Keselowski. The Nationwide Series driver piloting the No. 88 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet who two years ago was never heard of.
That was until NASCAR's Most Popular Driver came calling.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. offered the Rochester Hills native a three-race deal and upon being impressed, offered him a full-time ride beginning in 2008.
As soon as the team hit the track, led by Earnhardt Jr.'s former crew chief whom led him to back-to-back Nationwide Series Championships Tony "Pop" Eury Sr., it was obvious that they weren't there to just race, they were going to win.
Checkered flag number one came in June in Music City, Nashville, where after leading 27 laps he blew past Clint Bowyer to lead the final six. "This is it," he said in victory lane. "This is what I've been dreaming about my whole life."
If that seemed impressive, win number two was magical.
After qualifying 37th at Bristol in August, Keselowski patiently and methodically worked his way through the field to once again catch Clint Bowyer. With 24 laps to go Bowyer slipped in turn two and Keselowski drove by and into victory lane.
While Keselowski had won the battle(s), Bowyer went on to win the war, the Nationwide Series Championship.
Keselowski settled for third behind Carl Edwards.
To many the driver of the No. 88 proved he could race and contend with the best of them and hang tough with the Sprint Cup drivers.
He finished a solid 19th in his Sprint Cup Series debut in Texas.
Brad Keselowski is not only the future of Hendrick Motorsports but the future of NASCAR. Even if his 2009 season has about as much luck as investors in the stock market.
But who is the Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver?
The man who says that if he wasn't burning up the racetrack, he would be burning up the courtroom. "If I wasn’t racing, I would most likely be an attorney because I like to ask questions and argue," he admits.
But Keselowski knows that you can't do anything if you don't take care and protect what you've got: both personally and professionally.
According to Brad's mother Kay, he was always the small kid which prompted much bullying. However, it only lasted until high school when he started fighting back.
"I was the kid that if the bully picked on me, I took a swing at him...I remember one guy who was probably twice my size," he says.
Keselowski was eventually suspended from school which brought an end to his fighting days. Instead, the now 24-year-old moved on to racing and tearing up the family lawn with his kart. He felt he had a right since he was the one who mowed it.
"You've kind of got to know Brad," says his brother Brian. "He's got a little bit of a different personality."
A personality that separates him from many other drivers in the garage.
He describes himself as inquisitive and while many drivers may confess love or hate for a certain track, you'll never hear him say that. "I don’t have a favorite track," he writes on his website. "My theory is that if you don’t have a favorite track, you can’t have a least-favorite track."
He enjoys reading and cooking, even though he won't spend $500 on a grill because he feels the food can taste better from one that costs $50.
Keselowski isn't one to throw away money, even on race cars.
Says Kay, "My husband's [Bob] real thing is, 'You need to know what makes these things work. You need to know how hard it is to fix them.' He [Brad] has a real appreciation for that because he knows what it's like to have to fix them."
Keselowski's easy equipment approach played a key role in his afore-mentioned Bristol victory. And it's something that greatly pleases boss Dale Earnhardt Jr.
"Brad has done a great job staying focused, learning from his mistakes and listening to advice that either I or Tony (Eury) Sr. gives him," says Earnhardt Jr. "He's lived up to the expectations I had for him when I hired him...and I think he's turned a lot of heads in how sharp he is on and off the track."
Off the track Keselowski is having a blast living in his own townhouse on Earnhardt Jr.'s property. Recently he's begun working out and has Earnhardt Jr. running with him, even if Keselowski says, they have different styles.
Their styles on the racetrack is very much similar. They are both a second generation driver, they know how to work on their own cars and can drive it like they stole it while continuing to dream big.
Keselowski may never have the fan base that Earnhardt Jr. has, or three-straight championships that Jimmie Johnson has, or the attitude that Kyle Busch has. But one day he will be rubbing fenders with them on a weekly basis on NASCAR's grandest stage.
And with his raw talent that many drivers and owners respectively commend him on, he may come out on top.
Brad Keselowski has only begun to make a name for himself.
Source: NASCAR Scene, VOL XXXII, NO. 36, February 12, 2009, and bradracing.com
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