As weeks go, they don’t get any bigger than the one Brad Keselowski is having right now.
In just his first full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Keselowski heads to Talladega Superspeedway as the defending winner of last year’s Aaron’s 499, where he famously drove James Finch’s part-time entry to victory. And that victory, of course, resulted in contact that sent Carl Edwards first onto the hood of Ryan Newman’s Chevrolet and then up into the catchfence.
The even bigger news was Wednesday’s announcement that next year Keselowski will change cars within Penske Racing, moving over to the Miller Lite-sponsored No. 2 that Kurt Busch has driven since 2006. While Keselowski will take over one of the most visible and coveted rides in all of NASCAR, Busch has signed a contract extension with Penske and will drive the No. 22 Penske Dodge with sponsorship from Shell Oil Co. and its Pennzoil brand.
“Yeah, it's been an eventful week, for sure, with going back to Talladega, and signing up to drive the No. 2 blue deuce,” Keselowski said during NASCAR’s weekly teleconference on Wednesday. “Wow. I mean, that car is an icon. It's a car that I grew up watching, even when it was black and gold with Rusty (Wallace) and everything that he did with it and winning races and won championships. That was just a cool car and it's a legendary car that sends shivers down your spine, again, even about the opportunity to drive it. Just really humbled at that opportunity and glad to be wanted. I think that's a great feeling, and just ready to get out there and mix it up in a car that's not just a car, it's an icon.”
The deal to drive the No. 2 is a huge one for Keselowski, who has had an up-and-down season. He’s been fast on several occasions, but he’s also made several enemies in the Sprint Cup field with his aggressive, take-no-prisoners style of driving that’s earned him comparisons with Ernie Irvan in the early 1990s.
But car owner Roger Penske evidently believes he can rein in Keselowski’s temper — as Penske already has done with Kurt Busch — and help the young driver become a legitimate championship contender. To that end, Keselowski said Penske’s faith in him is very beneficial.
“The key words are solidifying our future and giving some validity to our program,” Keselowski said. “Obviously when you have rotating sponsors every week, there's some confusion that goes with that, not just with the fans but also with the team itself. So to be able to look the guys in the eye this morning and tell them that's what we are going to do next year and see their faces and see how excited they were about it; to know that there's ... a solid future ahead for not just me but for everyone on my team, that's so important, so very important. This is a people sport, and you know, when those people believe in you and believe in the company and the team that you drive for, it carries you a long ways.”
And Keselowski knows he’ll have to deliver in the No. 2 next season.
“Expectations are whoever drives that 2 car has got to win,” he said. “They have got to perform. Internally we have those same expectations and we want to do it as fast as possible. And we know it's going to take time and hopefully when the time comes, we are ready and I think we are getting there. We are on the path to being able to do that. Although, we need to show more progress that the progress we have shown to date shows that we can get there with time.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEEDtv.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.
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