NASCAR: Young gun Keselowski focusing on title
By Will Graves
Brad Keselowski always thought he’d get a chance to go out and enjoy being one of his sport’s rising stars.
Ask the 24-year-old Nationwide Series driver if he has a life these days and he can’t even muster the energy to laugh.
“I would say no, 35 weeks a year is a grueling schedule,” he said. “To be honest I think the Nationwide schedule is tougher than the (Sprint) Cup Series schedule. So, you know, it presents its own set of challenges. And, you know, my life right now is racing.”
On the track, the racing has never been better for Keselowski. He heads into the Dodge Dealers 250 on Saturday in St. Louis second in the series points, trailing Clint Bowyer by 183. The sometimes overwhelmed driver who limped to a 25th-place finish in the season standings last year is gone. Keselowski captured his first Nationwide Series win in Nashville last month and hasn’t been out of the Top 10 in the season standings since March.
“There are times when you sit back and you think and you go ‘Wow, this has really been a dream season, really been a great year so far,”‘ he said. “Just the past 12 months, a lot of good things have happened to me and I’ve been very fortunate.”
The past week hasn’t been quite so kind.
Navy, the title sponsor for Keselowski’s No. 88 Chevy, announced it was pulling out at the end of the season even though Keselowski’s win in Nashville gave Navy its first win in the series.
“The performance has been of such (success) to where it was somewhat surprising,” he said. “But those issues are out of my hands and there wasn’t much I could do about it. So that’s just the way it goes. Life goes on.”
That means Keselowski heads into the final 15 races of the season trying to catch Bowyer ó and the eye of a title sponsor for next year. He plans on driving the No. 88 for team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2009, even though he’s not sure whose name will be splashed across the hood.
“We’re working on a few things,” he said. “But I know (driving for JR Motorsports) is locked in stone and look forward to that.”
It’ll also give him another year to learn from Earnhardt, who has mentored Keselowski when he has had the time.
“Going to Daytona he helped me out a tremendous amount, watching footage from Talladega and showing me what I did wrong and what I did right and trying to explain that to me,” Keselowski said. “So it’s just the small things like that, that seem to help me out a lot.”
The small things aren’t limited to the track. As exhausting as his weekly schedule can become, Keselowski knows it pales in comparison to the demands that face the sport’s most popular driver. Yet Earnhardt has been sure to point out to Keselowski that the work done between Saturday nights is just as important as the work done at 180 mph.
“You know, when it comes down to the responsibilities to the sponsors and to the fans and how to balance all that and how to live your own life … it’s a constant juggling act,” he said. “There’s no right or wrong on it, but it’s trying to find that right balance and that right harmony.”
Keselowski would like to find some balance on the track, too. While he has no worries on midlevel tracks like the 1.5-mile ovals in Las Vegas, Kentucky and Kansas, he’s still got a lot of work to do to figure out the road courses. If he wants to have any shot at catching Bowyer, he knows his team needs to do better when required to turn left and right.
“The road course races, you know, we need to just survive them and try not to lose any points to Clint,” he said. “Those are definitely not my strong suit.”
He’ll get a chance to improve next month when the series runs at Circuit Gille Villeneuve and Watkins Glen.
Making up 183 points is a steep hill to climb, one that might not be so daunting if the Nationwide Series borrowed the Sprint Cup’s idea and created a chase for the championship, resetting the standings late in the season so the top 12 drivers all have a shot at the title.