Is Brad Keselowski's Aggressive Driving Hurting His Sprint Cup Title Chances?

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Is Brad Keselowski's Aggressive Driving Hurting His Sprint Cup Title Chances?
USA Today

Brad Keselowski hasn't been making any friends in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series lately.

In fact, he has been making way too many enemies. 

While the 2012 series champion has long been admired for his aggressive approach to driving, there is a fine line in the sport and Keselowski arguably crossed it the last two weeks. In the process, there is a very good chance that Keselowski has put himself in a bad position as he attempts to pursue the 2014 Cup title.

That's because Sprint Cup drivers sometimes publicly forgive, but they never really forget. Several of them no doubt have filed away their bitter memories of Keselowski's behavior over the last couple of races and very well may use it against him later in the season when it matters a whole lot more, like when they're perhaps running poorly in a Chase for the Sprint Cup race and Keselowski is again running aggressively anywhere in the same zip code.

It's true that there always is more talk about retaliation in NASCAR than there is actual retaliation.

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But in this case, under the new Chase format, where drivers will be eliminated as the 10-race Chase progresses, it will only take one to get ticked off at Keselowski enough to turn him at precisely the most inopportune time for the enigmatic driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford.

First, a quick review is in order.

Keselowski first ruffled some fenders when he overreacted after being embroiled in a thrilling four-way battle for the race victory at Richmond. Afterward, Keselowski was furious with Matt Kenseth for, well, apparently trying to win the race just as hard as Keselowski was.

BK sought out Kenseth after the race, performed some aggressive finger-waving (with his helmet still on, of course) at the veteran driver, angrily threw a few items as he strolled back down pit road and then called Kenseth's decision to try to block him "mind-boggling" during a post-race Fox Sports television interview.

Mind-boggling? Really?

It appeared that all Kenseth was attempting to do was protect his lead as the race wound down. It was hard racing at its best. It was, in fact, exactly the kind of thing that Keselowski almost certainly would have done had he been in Kenseth's position, leading the race under pressure on the final laps.

To his credit, Keselowski later admitted that he overreacted in the heat of the moment. But truthfully, he came across as a crybaby on national television, an impression with the audience that's hard to dismiss quickly with 140 characters on Twitter.

As it turns out, Keselowski was just getting warmed up in ticking other drivers off.

Early in the Aaron's 499 at Talladega eight days later, on Lap 14 in fact, he attempted an overly aggressive move to take the lead from Danica Patrick and nearly wrecked himself and half the field. Keselowski came down across Patrick before he had completely cleared her, Patrick clipped him and BK's No. 2 Ford was sent spinning through the field.

The fact that no other cars plowed into Keselowski was pure luck. The fact that he kept the car off the walls was a testament to the fact that, yes, he is a very skilled driver.

But he hasn't been driving like a very smart one.

Why he felt the need to be so aggressive early in a 500-mile race was left unanswered in the wake of all else that would transpire before the day was done. But it is a legitimate question.

Later in the same race, while still six laps down due to the earlier incident (which caused him to break a water hose and have it replaced), Keselowski was trying to drive up through the middle of a pack of cars and get in front of the leaders again. He lost control of his car and spun in front of much of the field still on the lead lap, taking out several contenders along with himself and angering many of his fellow competitors in the process.

Yes, it was Talladega, and Keselowski would explain that he was trying to get in position to be the Lucky Dog, who gets one lap back every time he's the first car not on the lead lap when the caution comes out. Talladega is such a huge track that the only other car fighting for Lucky Dog at the time was Jamie McMurray, who repeatedly had gained laps back as the day progressed.

Keselowski was trying for a miracle, quite honestly, and didn't particularly care whom else he might have placed in jeopardy as a result. He later took to Twitter to apologize again and also admitted he would be mighty upset if he had been on the lead lap and someone else who was six laps down had been attempting to drive so aggressively with the leaders at that stage of the race.

Kenseth was one of the drivers who had his day ruined because of Keselowski's carelessness. In a move that dripped of sweet poetic justice, Kenseth did an interview afterward with Fox Sports on TV and called Keselowski's move "mind-boggling."

Jeff Gordon also was taken out by Keselowski and wondered loudly what BK might have been thinking.

"I'm not exactly sure why he was driving the way he was driving to begin with," Gordon told FoxSports.com.

Prior to the race, in a NASCAR RaceDay interview with Hall of Fame driver and current TV analyst Darrell Waltrip, Keselowski told Waltrip that last year, when he failed to make the Chase and therefore never got to defend his 2012 title all the way to the end, he believed he wasn't aggressive enough. He told Waltrip that so many people told him he had to "act like a champion" that he worried more about racing everyone cleanly than he did making the kinds of aggressive moves necessary to win multiple races.

All of that is understood. But there is a fine line between being aggressive and being stupid.

Keselowski crossed it in back-to-back weeks. It's a long season, and he will no doubt win more races, as his crew chief, Paul Wolfe, consistently puts him in fast cars and he's very talented.

But now he not only needs to concentrate on driving smarter while maintaining the correct level of aggressiveness, he'll also have the additional worry of wondering what other drivers might do to him the next time they're racing in tight quarters and they have less to lose than he does.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all information was obtained firsthand by the writer.

Joe Menzer has covered NASCAR for years and has written two books about it. He now writes about auto racing and other sports, including golf, college basketball and the Olympics, for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.

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