Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Who is Brad Keselowski?

After taking his first career Sprint Cup win in just his fifth start on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, Brad Keselowski not only became the 10th first-time winner in the track's history, he also took a big step toward making himself a household name in the near future.

But a lot of fans probably don't know who Keselowski is. It's a product of a lot of fans not knowing much beyond the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series -- Jamie McMurray experienced the same thing in 2002, when he won his first Cup race in Charlotte while filling in for an injured Sterling Marlin. A lot of fans didn't know who he was, either.

But allow me, a not-quite-professional, semi-guru when it comes to NASCAR, to fill you in.

Keselowski is a 25-year-old native of Rochester Hills, Mich. and the son of longtime racer Bob Keselowski. Bob won the Camping World Truck Series race in Richmond in 1997, his only major NASCAR victory, and was the 1989 ARCA Series champion. Keselowski is the younger brother of Brian Keselowski, who races part-time in the Nationwide Series.

Keselowski made his NASCAR national touring series debut in 2004, when he ran the Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway, driving the family-owned No. 29 to a 33rd-place finish. Keselowski's career in the Truck Series was underwhelming, but he moved up full-time to the Nationwide Series in 2007. His Keith Coleman Racing team suspended operations in July, though, leaving Keselowski with Germain Racing at Memphis Motorsports Park after Ted Musgrave was suspended for an incident at Milwaukee.

Keselowski won the pole at Memphis and led most of the race, only to be bumped out of the way by Travis Kvapil. The performance caught the eye of Dale Earnhardt Jr., though, who called Keselowski and offered him a chance to drive the No. 88 Navy Chevrolet out of JR Motorsports for the rest of the season. Keselowski did, posting five Top-10 finishes.

The 2008 season was Keselowski's first true full-time campaign in the Nationwide Series, and he finished third in the point standings behind champion Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards. Keselowski posted 20 Top-10s and 11 Top-5s on the season, including two victories. Keselowski's first career NASCAR win came at Nashville Superspeedway on June 7, while the second came at Bristol on Aug. 22.

So far this season, Keselowski sits sixth in the Nationwide Series point standings, 178 points behind leader Kyle Busch. After a tough start to the season, Keselowski has posted four straight Top-10 finishes; he came in ninth at Talladega this past weekend. Prior to Talladega, Keselowski posted consecutive third-place finishes at Texas, Nashville and Phoenix.

Keselowski made his Sprint Cup debut last November in the Dickies 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, finishing a then-career best 19th in the No. 25 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports. He also finished 23rd at the season finale in Homestead.

Running a limited Cup schedule this year in order to keep his Rookie of the Year eligibility, Keselowski has split time between the No. 25 and the No. 09 for owner James Finch. He finished 38th at Las Vegas and 23rd at Texas before pulling off the upset victory at Talladega.

Keselowski was reportedly offered a chance to run in the Sprint Cup Series full-time this season, when Roger Penkse offered him the No. 12 ride once Ryan Newman announced he was going to Stewart Haas Racing, but Keselowski wanted to stay with JR Motorsports and admitted he needed more seat time in the Nationwide Series. Some believe he's the heir apparent to Rick Hendrick's No. 5 car, though that depends on what Mark Martin does.

Earnhardt said on Tuesday he wants Keselowski back in his No. 88 Nationwide Series ride in 2010, but that anything on the Sprint Cup side is "with Rick (Hendrick)." Could another Sprint Cup team snatch him up next season, if a ride should become available? Possibly, but something tells me Keselowski would rather stay loyal to Earnhardt and Hendrick.

18-year-old Joey Logano might get all the hype -- you know, the whole "Sliced Bread" thing -- but there's one thing no one can ignore: Keselowski made it to Victory Lane in a Cup car first.

I'm just sayin'.

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