Brash Brad Keselowski pushes pedal to the max

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Brad Keselowski: “Hopefully we can execute and do it this year” in the Quicken Loans 400.

Detroit — Brad Keselowski is 31 years old, in the third season after his NASCAR Sprint championship, 11 years after debuting in the truck series and, with his newborn daughter, somewhere between bottle duties and attempting the diapers.

On the track and public square, he is still Brash Brad.

When someone suggested, at a promotional event recently, that by expressing true respect for Michigan State while not betraying his Michigan-first sensibilities he might be straddling a safe line, Keselowski pounced.

Understand, he cared not about being challenged to negotiate the eternal Spartans-Wolverines divide as the only NASCAR Sprint champ born in the state.

Keselowski's issue was how anyone could think he would seek a safe line, let alone try to straddle it.

"You don't have to be a hater, you can appreciate them all," he said of the in-state rivalry, in which the maize-and-blue fan says he genuinely appreciates and greatly respects the efforts of the green-and-white.

"It's not a safe line," Keselowski declares, seeking to make the distinction absolutely clear. "It is how I feel."

Whether in sports-bar-like conversation about halfway thinking he might skip part of the event to sneak over to Comerica Park for "a brat and some beer" at the Tigers game, his frank airing of observations on social media, his candor around pit road or his forcefulness on the throttle and steering wheel, he endures as an assertive presence in motor sports.

In the corners, on the straights or tweeting, folks know where Keselowski is.

In the cars, other drivers know that knowledge sometimes can make the difference between winning and losing.

He wins, with a career-high six during the 2014 season while finishing fifth in Sprint Cup, and one in 2015.

He also is a throwback.

Keselowski is the sort of athlete who, beyond playing hard, is willing to bang a few fenders, if you leave him anywhere near enough space to drive to the front.

Then, he will climb out of the car, sweating, to take a breath and proclaim, "We were just racing for the win. I didn't wreck him. He left a hole, and I went in."

When he did that Nov. 2 at the Texas 500, bouncing Jeff Gordon around a bit in a bid to charge to the front after a yellow flag, Keselowski ended up third in the race and, immediately afterward, in a fight that included three drivers and members of six crews.

"We weren't as fast as we wanted to be," he said when the dust cleared. "We had to scratch our way back into it.

"I'm doing everything I can to win this championship, racing at 100 percent. And that's not something I'm going to be ashamed for."

His hand is firm tweeting, too.

When Juan Pablo Montoya, another of Roger Penske's drivers in another form of racing, IndyCar, won the Indianapolis 500 last month, more than a few cheap-shot artists on Twitter recalled Montoya rear-ending a track dryer at Daytona in a spectacularly fiery accident.

Few noted a broken trailing arm on his rear suspension caused the crash.

Keselowski, a frequent and frank tweeter, took to the Internet to defend his colleague, a man whose fierceness on the track is similar to his own.

"Cmon peeps," Keselowski wrote. "He just won the #Indy500. Give him at least a month without a jet dryer joke."

When President Obama finally got a Twitter account, Keselowski tweeted, tongue-in-cheek, "80k followers in 20 minutes. Impressive."

He retweeted a story about NFL quarterback Tom Brady having to file income taxes in nine states, adding that he has to file in every state in which he races.

When a follower challenged the notion he filed himself, Keselowski tweeted, "I sign the check!"

When told his tweets are more interesting than those of most athletes, Keselowski tweeted, "So many athletes are vanilla because it's easy and it allows you to focus on other aspects of your life. That's a tremendous tragedy."

It's all a matter of living a worthwhile life, Keselowski said.

"Well, you know, there's this really powerful Winston Churchill quote about if you have enemies, that's probably a good thing. That means you stood up for yourself, at some point in your life, and what you believed in," he said.

"And I believe in the things that I'm doing. I believe in the people that I'm around, the way I live my life.

"There's always going to be people that question you, and I'm just not one to back down from it."

He is not yet backing down from setting a firm privacy barrier for his daughter, whom he has not publicly named, after his longtime girlfriend, Paige White, gave birth last month.

"It's great," Keselowski said, with the other-worldly sort of facial expression common to new fathers. "I've got a 2-week-old daughter and it's been everything I could ever ask for."

He paused.

"I don't know how to explain it beyond that," he said. "But, I'm just really happy."

Hopes MIS helps

After six wins in 17 top-five finishes in 36 races in 2014, he has one win and three top-fives through 13 in 2015.

The Penske team, including Joey Logano, started strong, but has hit a bit of a slump.

Keselowski's last seven finishes are: 35th, 17th, 22nd, 7th, 7th, 12th and 17th.

Brad Keselowski is sixth in the Sprint Cup standings.

"Every season has disappointments. I mean, whenever you don't win, it's a disappointment," he said.

"And racing is kind of like hitting in major league baseball: If you could hit .300, you'd be a superstar, .400 and you go in the hall of fame, you know?

"In racing, those numbers are probably even a little bit lower.

"We've got one win on the year, we're about a third of the way through the schedule. We'd like to knock off a few more."

He thought he had a shot at winning at Pocono last weekend when he qualified seventh and liked his car, but fell short.

Keselowski was in the top five when he and driver Brett Moffitt came together with 32 laps left. He finished 17th.

"Michigan has been a track we've been so close to winning at, before," he said, about the approaching weekend and the Quicken Loans 400. "But we seem to come up a bit short for whatever reason.

"But hopefully we can execute, and do it this year."

Driving isn't all

It's beginning to be time to get going, or get left behind, in the Sprint Cup season.

Keselowski has one Sprint championship, the first ever won by driver born in Michigan. He has two fifth-place finishes, in 2011 and 2014.

He also won a Nationwide championship in 2010.

Championships are difficult. Asked about the former Red Wings coach Mike Babcock saying winning one requires terrific talent, excellent execution and then lots and lots of good luck, Keselowski smiled and nodded.

"Yeah, everything has to come together, and if one piece is the slightest amount off, you don't win," he sad. "And that just speaks volumes to how strong the competition is."

Keselowski's evolving career is successful as an owner, too.

He broke in the NASCAR truck series in 2004 as a driver for K-Automotive Sports, his family's company. In 2008, he established Brad Keselowski racing.

This season, driver Tyler Reddick is second in the standings, 25 points behind the leader, Matt Crafton, after winning two of seven races, and garnering five top-fives.

"I think you just plant the seed and see where it goes," he said, of owning a team.

"You know, when you try to say you want to do something with it, life has a way of taking you where it wants you to go.

"I just want to be successful, and I want to have a bigger role in the sport outside of driving and to give back to those who have given me opportunities professionally."