It started with a caution.
With the laps winding down at the Texas AAA 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway, Jeff Gordon ,was running away with what looked like his fifth win of the season, and a free ticket into the Championship four showdown at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Jeff Gordon’s teammate, Jimmie Johnson, was running second and holding off hard chargers Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, both of which had four fresher tires than both Johnson and Gordon
Then with four laps to go, Teammate Kasey Kahne hit the outside the wall, bringing out the caution that would lead to the first of three possible Green-White Checkered finishes that would decide the winner. On the first of the eventual two GWC finishes, Jeff Gordon lead the field into turn one on the outside line, with Jimmie Johnson to the inside. Brad Keselowski then went for the lead, forcing his way into a hole that wasn’t there. The hole wasn’t large enough for Keselowski to navigate safely, bouncing off the rear of Jimmie Johnson’s car before hitting the side of Jeff Gordon’s machine. The resulting contact would leave Gordon with a flat left rear tire, which would result in a spin that would leave Gordon 29th, while Brad Keselowski would end the race third.
After the race, the fireworks moved from on the track, to pit lane. Jeff Gordon pulled up next to Brad Keselowski and hurried out of his car. He walked around the right side of Brad’s car before being halted by a crew member from Brad’s team. The two would have a heated argument before Kevin Harvick snuck up behind Brad and pushed him towards Gordon, sparking off a massive brawl between Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, and crews from Keselowski, Gordon, and Kasey Kahne’s teams.
For Brad Keselowski, it was another day at the office. This season has been littered with confrontations for the driver of the #2 MIller Lite Ford.Three weeks earlier, Brad Keselowski was involved in a post-race brawl with Matt Kenseth after Keselowski slammed into the back of him on pit lane at the end of the Bank of America 500 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. It started when Keselowski, angry with Kenseth, after an on track incident with Kenseth, sped down pit lane and slammed the back of the number 20 Dollar General Toyota. Kenseth, touted as NASCAR’s number one nice guy chased down Brad after the incident and tackled Keselowski against one of the hauler’s and got him in a headlock before the two were separated. In May, Brad sparked controversy when he destroyed half the field in a crash he caused in the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. While big wrecks at the 2.66 Mile Super-speedway are common, many drivers on the radio were seething that Keselowski was mixing it up with the leaders while he was six laps down. In March, an accidental collision between him and Kurt Busch enraged Keselowski, who used his car as a battering ram on track to try and take out the eventual race winner.
Brad Keselowski is no stranger to this type of controversy. The driver known for his hard-nosed driving style has had several run-ins with drivers in the past.. in 2009, Brad Keselowski won his first race at the Talladega Superspeedway by spinning Carl Edwards, sending Edwards flying into the fence in one of the most harrowing incidents in NASCAR history. In 2012, an alleged water bottle toss during a Nationwide race at the Atlanta Motor Speedway cost Kevin Harvick a win, leading to a heated debate between Keselowski and Harvick post race.
Brad Keselowski calls his miscues the product of giving fans the “hard racing” that they want to see. But what Brad doesn’t understand, and probably never will, is that there is a limit to rubbing is racing. NASCAR has had it’s fair share of villains in the past. Darrell Waltrip, nicknamed Jaws for his ability agitating fellow drivers with his words as well as his driving style, made many enemies during his storied NASCAR career. Kyle Busch’s aggressive style and attitude issues has lead him the reputation of one of NASCAR’s bad boys.
But none was more famous, or made a bigger name out of being the Bad Guy, than the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. Nicknamed “The Intimidator”, Dale Earnhardt Sr. made a career out of roughing up his fellow drivers on track, earning him the hatred of fellow drivers and the admiration of the fans. He drove a black number 3, and his mere appearance behind a fellow driver would make them nervous of getting a tap in the left rear quarter panel from NASCAR’s baddest man.
NASCAR fans love their bad boys, and the sports fans that love the take-no prisoners style. Some will even point the finger back at the drivers he’s tangled with for not giving their all, or racing too safe. But there is a such thing as being too aggressive, and even though they may not have shown it, drivers like Dale Earnhardt Sr. were able to make a career out of hard nose racing by earning the respect of the garage area through their on track performance. Respect that Brad doesn’t have.
Keselowski, despite his attitude, is a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion. In 2012, Brad held off future hall of famer Jimmie Johnson for his first championship victory.At the time, Keselowski’s championship was seen as a breath of fresh air. The previous years had been dominated by Jimmie Johnson. The Hendrick Motorsports driver had made the chase his own, winning five of his six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series trophies in back to back fashion. Despite his success, Fans lampooned Johnson for a perceived lack of personality, coupled with fan theories over NASCAR officials “looking the other way” as the 48 Lowe’s Chevy went through inspection.
Brad, on the other hand, carried no such baggage. He climbed the ladder from running for his families team in the truck series to a ride with the famed Captain, Roger Penske. Brad had a take no-prisoners attitude. Despite Johnson’s lofty achievements, Keselowski saw him as just another driver. This perception lead Keselowski to fight Johnson for every inch of ground, earning him admiration from the fans and respect from the garage. His ability to stand up to the Johnson-Knaus Juggernaut was the first Sprint Cup Series title for both he and the Penske Racing team.
While Brad enjoyed the revelry and the trophy, Brad hasn’t grasped that with being a champion, comes responsibility. A Sprint Cup Champion is a standard bearer of the sport. A Champion acts with integrity, and drives with maturity, By his actions, Brad Keselowski has demonstrated that he has neither. His immaturity has lead to an impressive list of enemies at a time where you need every one in the garage on your side. Next week, NASCAR goes to Phoenix for the final race of the “Eliminator” section of the new Chase for the Cup format. after Phoenix, eight drivers will be paired down to four. Keselowski is currently seventh in points as we head into Phoenix. Anyone you’ve angered in the past could choose this coming week as the time to cash in, and Brad has made plenty of enemies within the Eliminator 8 field alone. If anyone finds themselves out of contention in the race’s final laps could decide that if they won’t make it, Keselowski won’t either.
What Kevin Harvick’s shove at the end of Sunday’s Texas AAA 500 showed is that Keselowski has transitioned from simple villain to one the sport’s most reviled drivers. Driving like a fresh-faced rookie looking to make a name may give you fans in the short term, but in the long run, the furor of the drivers will sink you and any aspirations for future success that you may have. Drivers respected Dale Earnhardt Sr. for his ability to find the line and tread it lightly. Keselowski on the other hand, bulldozed his way over the line both figuratively and literally. Brad has now succeeded in angering two of NASCAR’s nicest drivers, and the rest of the garage area ha soured on him as a result. An exercise in humility may be the only thing that could save Brad from becoming a total garage pariah. But humility may not be a skill Brad is willing or able to master.