Daytona Beach, FL-Brad Keselowski was a huge hit in 2012 but in 2013, well, he was a flop.
Maybe “flop” is too harsh a word but the fact is Keselowski, who drives Fords for Penske Racing, won the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship only to finish 14h in points last year – which means he was not one of the 13 drivers admitted into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Reckon Keselowski would call that a flop.
“It definitely wasn’t good, but that was last year,” said Keselowski, who won only one race and finished 16 times among the top 10 in 2013. “Much like what I did in 2012 didn’t count for much in 2013, and what you do in 2013 doesn’t count for much for 2014. You have to reset.”
Speaking of “reset,” NASCAR has done plenty of that for 2014. It includes new qualifying and rules structures – not to mention an altered Chase, which, among many other things, will consist of 16 drivers.
“I think almost every one of the changes benefits my team as a whole and is part of the reason for my optimism,” Keselowski said. “Well, maybe with the exception of the added spoiler to the back of the car. That’s probably the only change of anything that’s been done, and there have been a lot of them, that I didn’t like.
“I think if you want an explanation as to how I think we’d be here for a long time, but I think all the changes are beneficial for us. The Chase changes, I think, fit my driving style the best.
“The qualifying changes definitely fit me very well, so I think all of them are really positive for our team.”
Keselowski admits that 2013 started out well enough, but some NASCAR-enforced alterations to his Ford helped create a competitive downturn.
“The new rear suspension package that we came out with at Texas, getting that taken away from us was big, and then everyone else developed some packages that we, quite frankly, weren’t allowed to do,” Keselowski said. “That put us behind speed-wise and speed is kind of the backbone of this sport.
“And then we missed the ball on some execution, whether that was speeding down pit road or parts that fell off the car or pit stops. So we kind of hit the perfect storm over the summer and that’s all it took without getting a race win early in the season when we were very capable of doing so.”
“I think once we hit the Chase period and re-developed our cars I thought we were really strong. Again, we ran into some of the same issues, but on a much smaller basis.”
Keselowski first captured everyone’s attention with his surprise victory at Talladega in James Finch’s underfinanced Chevrolet in 2009. That helped the Rochester Hills, Mich., native land a ride with Penske the following year.
One trait that has galvanized Keselowski is his willingness to speak his mind. He’s never been timid – on the track or off. A driver who tweets during a race and causes NASCAR to rule against the practice, and monitor Twitter, is no wallflower by any means.
It’s been suggested NASCAR has tried to put a muzzle on Keselowski, so to speak, but the driver, who was an excellent ambassador for the sport last year, doesn’t agree –well, somewhat.
“I don’t have a muzzle on my face right now, but maybe I should have,” said Keselowski, who has been fined many times by NASCAR. “I’m in an increasingly difficult position as a champion of this sport to try to convey the very strong situation and the health of this sport, which, although it could always be better, is not terrible.
“I think quite a few back channels have opened up within NASCAR over the last six to eight months that have given me the ability to not have to go to the media to get something done.
“That fits my personal and professional agenda, and out of respect for that I think it maybe creates a situation where what might look like a muzzle to you or to the outside is perhaps more a moment of opportunity I just don’t want to piss away.
“Either that or it’s just being so damn annoying that people start listening to you – one of the two.”
It’s obvious Keselowski doesn’t want to, uh, “piss away” his chances in 2014.
“I felt we had a really strong run a lot of times and won Charlotte, and were really strong and competitive at Texas and Homestead and Chicago,” he said. “But not quite enough to be where we want.
“We made a lot of changes in that regard internally to try to clean up those misgivings, but I don’t think we’re very far off. I thought when we ended 2013 that we ended in a very similar fashion that we ended 2011, which set us up for a strong title run in 2012.
“So I’m carrying that optimism into this year.”