Brad Keselowski emerged as a potential future superstar in 2010, crushing the field in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where he won the championship by 445 points over Carl Edwards, a margin of nearly three full races.
Keselowski, the fiery 26-year-old Michigan native, injected some much-needed passion and excitement into NASCAR’s AAA division, where in a 35-race season he posted five poles, six race victories, 26 top-five and 29 top-10 finishes.
And how’s this for an amazing statistic: On the season, Keselowski completed 6,488 of 6,489 laps run over the length of the season.
At times, his cockiness and aggressiveness drew the ire of NASCAR officials and his fellow competitors, but at the same time it was a tremendous breath of fresh air. And if nothing else, Keselowski holds one distinction that can never, ever be taken away from him: He’s the first driver to ever deliver a NASCAR championship to team owner Roger Penske.
Considering that Keselowski’s predecessors carried last names like Donohue, Allison, Bonnett, Wallace, Newman and Busch, that’s pretty good company. And it did it with a NNS team in its rookie season.
“When you think just a year ago when we decided to put this team together and Paul (Wolfe, crew chief) agreed to come on board and Brad,” said Penske. “We talked with him and said, ‘Let's build something from the ground. Let's build a whole new team. And that's what we've done this year. ... It’s a real thrill. This goes down to something I've tried so hard with on the Cup side, and certainly this hopefully will be a preamble to what's to come in the future.”
To accomplish what the team managed in its first season together was nothing short of remarkable and something Keselowski definitely appreciates.
“It's pretty amazing, you know, to come from just a few years back not having a job in this sport and really thinking I was going to have to get a real job, to being out here and winning the championship and kind of establishing yourself,” he said. ”
His crew chief agreed.
“I think it's been special for everybody involved,” said Wolfe, who definitely raised some eyebrows with his work this year. “It's nice to be able to go back to the guys that work so hard in the shop that don't necessarily get time to spend in Victory Lane. We try to go back and thank them every week for what they've done. It's pretty impressive to be a new team like this and to only not compete one lap all season says how hard everybody's worked in building these race cars and building the reliability in them, too.”
Now, the challenge for Keselowski in 2011 will be to translate the success he had at the Nationwide level into the Cup Series. He his first full Cup schedule in 2010, finishing 25th in points.
Next year, he moves to Penske’s iconic No. 2 Miller Lite-sponsored Dodge, and the ante will be raised considerably.
“Hopefully, we can carry this success over to the Cup side,” said Keselowski. “But as of now we're going to soak this up and celebrate what we've done this year and very proud of it.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.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.