Brad Keselowski a winner with Earnhardt-like attitude
Brad Keselowski's refusal to be pushed around on the race track has earned him a few comparisons to the late Dale Earnhardt.
It's a conversation Keselowski will not participate in out of deference to the Hall of Fame seven-time champion.
"Racing in some ways is like music — you can be influenced as a band by another band," he said. "Certainly there is some influence there. But I'm not that band. It's flattering with all the success that (Earnhardt) has had. But I'm not (that) band, I'm just trying to do things my own way, the best way I know how."
Keselowski, of Rochester Hills, had a roller-coaster eight days last week after he tangled on and off the track at Charlotte with Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth. It earned him a $50,000 fine from NASCAR, and dropped him into a must-win situation Sunday at Talladega.
He then pulled off a stunning rally by winning at the Alabama track to avoid elimination in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Keselowski now goes this weekend to Martinsville Speedway seeking to strengthen his bid for a second Cup title in three years.
Team owner Roger Penske surmised that it's Keselowski's success — the driver has a series-best six wins this season and five poles — that has caused jealousy among his peers. It's that alleged animosity that flared at Charlotte, Penske believes, and he encouraged Keselowski to just move on.
Kenseth, who jumped Keselowski from behind in the garage at Charlotte, insisted he's not jealous of Keselowski.
"I don't agree with things that he says or does at times, but I actually really admire Brad's work ethic, how he got to where he was at. He got here the old-fashioned way, working hard," said Kenseth, noting he used to see Keselowski working on his own cars in the garage as other drivers retreated to their motorhomes. "He works harder than most people work at it and tries harder, and that's a lot of the reason for his success. I'm certainly not jealous of that. I actually admire that part of him."
Hamlin, who tangled on the track after the race with Keselowski and had to be restrained from confronting him, also dismissed Penske's theory.
"There is nobody jealous of Brad," Hamlin said Tuesday. "Nobody wants to be Brad."
Keselowski understands there are mixed feelings about him throughout NASCAR. But he said being the most popular driver was never his goal, and he's always carried himself with the determination and drive to simply make it to NASCAR's top level.
It's meant being outspoken, not giving an inch on the race track and not backing down to a veteran. He makes no apologies for refusing to follow any code, real or imagined.
"Sometimes, with this current setting, you're going to have to ruffle some feathers and not everybody's going to like you," Keselowski said. "I'm comfortable with that, or as comfortable with that as you can be. There's no part of me that's sitting here saying, 'Man, I hope everybody hates me.'"
Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon was the one driver who didn't dismiss the jealousy theory. He was controversial during his dominant early years as fans and drivers were divided on his success. But he thinks Keselowski's own actions have led to some of the negativity directed at the driver.
"I'm sure there is (jealousy)," Gordon said. "I don't have a problem with Brad. I respect Brad. I think he's done a tremendous job."