October 19, 2012

Sprint Cup leader Keselowski a man of the people

When Brad Keselowski pulls onto the track at Kansas Speedway on Sunday afternoon, 42 other drivers will be following the Chase for the Sprint Cup leader in the standings and about 80,000 fans will be following him from the grandstands.

When Brad Keselowski pulls onto the track at Kansas Speedway on Sunday afternoon, 42 other drivers will be following the Chase for the Sprint Cup leader in the standings and about 80,000 fans will be following him from the grandstands.

And 299,287 will be following him on Twitter.

Keselowski, 28, is the undisputed Twitter king of NASCAR. He even takes his cellphone into his No. 2 Dodge race car and became a Twitter sensation during the Daytona 500 when during the red flag stoppage created by Juan Pablo Montoya’s crash into jet dryer, Keselowski posted a picture of the fire from the track.

“I got a lot more public reaction to it at Daytona,” Keselowski said, “but for me, it started a year prior. It’s a new level of fan and driver engagement or fan and athlete engagement. It opens access and doors for all those who participate in our sport.”

Keselowski has never been bashful about expressing his feelings on any topic, so no subject is off limits.

“That’s the best part about it,” he said. “I can do whatever I want with it. Sometimes I’ll express things that make me laugh, sometimes I express things that are controversial, and sometimes everything in between.

“I like technology, and I like being able to have control over my own brand in a way.”

Keselowski, who goes by @keselowski on Twitter, is not alone among drivers in the garage who use the micro-blogging service. In fact, both Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon have more than 300,000 followers, and Juan Pablo Montoya, former Formula 1 and Indianapolis 500 winner from Colombia, has more than 630,000 followers.

“I don’t put a lot of emphasis on the number,” Keselowski said. “That’s the first thing everyone looks at, how many you got, how many followers? I would rather have 50,000 that are good followers than 300,000 that are bad followers.”

About 300 of Keselowski’s followers lined up to meet the driver at a mall near Charlotte Motor Speedway last week. Keselowski signed autographs and put names and faces to Twitter handles.

“He’s a very funny tweeter,” said Kim Schuler of Alger, Mich., Keselowski’s home state. “He’s a very personable guy … real open.”

“He’s not afraid to speak his mind, and he backs it up,” said Kathy Locke of Athens, Ohio.

Keselowski has tried keeping up with the latest trends for as long as he can remember. When Keselowski was 12 and helping in the race shop of his father, Bob, a former ARCA champion, he carried a briefcase.

“Back in the late ’90s, having a briefcase was like a fad, and I wanted to fit in,” Keselowski said. “So I had a briefcase. The only thing I really had in it that was racing related were a couple racing books on geometry and certain things about car handling that I would read at night.

“Other than that, I had a stick of gum and a CD player, but I really felt cool because I had a briefcase, and I was fitting in. Then it all changed to where everybody has got backpacks now, so that’s the fad of the decade, I guess.”

Keselowski has parlayed his inquisitive mind and daring skills as a driver into a possible Sprint Cup championship in just his third full season in the series. He’s tied with Denny Hamlin for a series-most five victories this season, and Keselowski vaulted into the points lead by winning two of the first four races in the Chase, at Chicago and at Dover.

Keselowski’s background as a stat keeper and garage sweeper for his family-owned team taught him to appreciate the inner workings of a race car, and he’s never stopped trying to learn how to make it go even faster.

“Well, maybe I watched too many Saturday morning cartoons,” Keselowski said, “but I subscribe to the belief that knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you have the more powerful you can be.”

When someone asked him what’s the equivalent to a NASCAR driver in another sport, Keselowski, a fervent University of Michigan football fan, had a ready answer … NFL quarterback.

“Certainly there’s a skill set of talents to be able to throw the ball and do those things,” Keselowski said, “but a lot of the game is mental and being able to read defenses and things of that nature, and there are players who don’t do that very well that just have so much raw talent, they’re able to make up for it.

“Maybe I’m short on raw talent, but I’ve always relied on being able to read the situation and react accordingly. That’s always been when I’ve had the most success. The more knowledge I can have of the situation, the better read I can make and call the right audible.”

Keselowski’s quest for knowledge has had an effect on legendary car owner Roger Penske, who has won just about everything in motor sports, including 15 Indianapolis 500s, but is still pursuing his first Sprint Cup title.

“He won’t let me sleep, I’ll tell you that,” Penske said. “I get Twitter … I’m a big texter now. If you want to know anything, just text me based on him. He and I are talking all the time. I’ve got to get to my day job sometimes, I tell him.”

Keselowski is a fixture at the Penske Racing shop, and teammate Sam Hornish senses an uncommon level of commitment by the No. 2 team to win the championship.

“He is eating, breathing and sleeping winning this championship,” Hornish said. “That Miller Lite Dodge … those guys at the shop love that car, they want it to be up front. If it’s an extra half hour spent here or there, it’s going to be the best car they can put on the track. He’s living up to it, he’s winning races, he’s doing the right things.”

Keselowski has enjoyed success at Kansas Speedway, having won the 2011 spring race, 2011 Nationwide race and finishing third in the 2011 fall Cup race on the old track. So while the race on Sunday will be on a newly paved and reconfigured surface, Keselowski likes his position at the halfway mark of the Chase.

“I think we’re in good shape,” Keselowski said. “If we can win one or two more and keep rattling off top 10s, nobody will touch us. Sounds easy, There are 42 other people who are going to do everything they can to make it hard on me.”

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