Race Weekend Central

2010 NASCAR Driver Review: Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski

2010 Ride: No. 12 Penske Racing Dodge
2010 Primary Sponsors: Penske Racing, AAA Insurance, Mopar Parts, Abyss By Mobigloo, Verizon
2010 Owner: Roger Penske
2010 Crew Chief: Jay Guy
2010 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 2 top 10s, 1 pole, 41 laps led, 25th in points

High Point: Technically, Atlanta. After all, he did nearly high jump the catchfence. But as far as the stat sheet, I’d go with Loudon, where Brad captured his first career Sprint Cup Series pole but quickly faded to 26th.

Strange bit of coincidence? Keselowski’s birthday is 2/12/1984. Penske’s cars are No. 2 and his is No. 12. Age? 26 years old. There is a connection in there… somewhere. Towards season’s end, the No. 12 team managed back-to-back top-10 finishes (albeit 10ths) at the series’ shortest track Martinsville, then Talladega, the sport’s largest and site of Keselowski’s improbable Cup win in April of 2009.

Low Point: Bristol, addressing Kyle Busch as an “ass.” Not so much because he said it, but because of how some media peers at large went bonkers over it, with three weeks of, oh-no-he-di-d-n’t coverage, replete with faux shock-and-awe. Other than that, the middle child of Penske Racing couldn’t quite get on the ball to complement the flagship No. 2 Charger of teammate Kurt Busch. But with a Nationwide Series championship, at least was not suffering the gallows garage guffaws of the perpetually spinning Sam Hornish Jr.

Summary: After winning his first career race in only his fifth career start at driving James Finch’s Hendrick-fied No. 09 car, Keselowski came out of nowhere to sign with Penske Racing, replacing David Stremme in the No. 12 Penske Dodge. The No. 12 car had slowed in recent years after Ryan Newman drove it to 13 victories, including the 2008 Daytona 500, and hiring a young, inexperienced driver did little to turn them around. Keselowski’s first full season in Sprint Cup competition was a tumultuous one, having not scored a top-10 finish until late October at Martinsville.

That is not to say he ran poorly every week. The No. 12 car managed to lead 41 laps in 2010 and was typically a low-teens finisher just outside the top 10. While he was tearing up the Nationwide Series in his No. 22 Penske Dodge Chargers and Challengers, winning the title by a wide margin, he was also occasionally flying through the air at intermediate tracks.

While his win at Talladega last season was the catalyst for a Cup career, it ignited a rivalry with Carl Edwards. Incidental contact in Atlanta – again the result of Edwards turning down in front of Keselowski – sent Edwards to the garage for repairs, and would eventually send Keselowski sailing for the turn 1 seats as his car impacted the wall roof-first.

Understandably shaken and stirred following the incident, Keselowski still refused to back down from Edwards – or any driver on the Sprint Cup or Nationwide tour. “Bad Brad” Keselowski won over more than a few fans during the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a car that was competitive but had lost its power steering. Keselowski’s reaction? “I’m just going to have to man up and drive it.”

Later this summer, while competing for the win with Edwards at Gateway International Raceway, late-race rubbing on the final lap drove Edwards to drive Keselowski head on into the frontstretch wall, leaving him sitting idle in the middle of the track, where he was T-boned in the fuel cell area by on-coming traffic. Keselowski refused to back down again in August during the Bristol Nationwide night race, when he was walled by Kyle Busch after normal Bristol contact between the two, which resulted in Busch winning, then Keselowski professing the obvious 20 hours later during Sprint Cup driver introductions.

Team Ranking: Second. The No. 12 team would wind up the season 25th in points, but that is a deceiving 25th. Several strong runs were marred by crashes not of his doing (i.e., Atlanta) and the No. 12 team carried the name of the owner and Chrysler’s parts division on its flanks most of the year.

Being the only Dodge outfit in the Sprint Cup Series is not exactly and advantage, and the No. 77 team has never exactly been a wealth of information or inspiration for the Penske group. For a first year full-season driver and team, 25th isn’t all that bad considering the challenges they faced, and a Nationwide Series drivers’ championship was a nice consolation prize to give to owner Roger Penske, as Keselowski became the first Penske driver to win a stock car title.

2011 Outlook: Keselowski will be paired with his Nationwide championship-winning crew chief Paul Wolfe for 2011. The move will undoubtedly improve performance, with Keselowski winning six times, posting a mind-blowing 29 top 10s in 35 starts in that series. Put your calculator down – that is an 82.9% average. Let’s call it 83% and crack open a Miller Lite, Keselowski’s new sponsor for 2011, as he takes over the controls of the fabled Blue Deuce; teammate Kurt Busch will become the driver of a newly-numbered No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge.

The Penske Racing team may whittle down to two cars for 2010, pending sponsorship for Nos. 77/12 machine, which may help to consolidate resources for the effort. A few more Dodge teams in the fold would do wonders to bolster Keselowski’s chances in the Sprint Cup Series, as he looks to build upon his status as the only Michigan driver since Johnny Benson Jr. to win a Sprint Cup Series race and Nationwide title.

Where else are you going to get these kind of stats?

2009 Frontstretch Grade: A
2010 Grade: C+

About the author

Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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