Appreciating the Excellence of Brad Keselowski

Brad Keselowski has often said we are not judged by what we’ve accomplished once, but which accomplishments we are able to claim multiple times.

It’s why the 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion has conceded that he will not entertain his own Hall of Fame credentials until he wins another championship or a Daytona 500.

Both accomplishments are extremely important to him, but his victory on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway is a snapshot of why the 37-year-old will be enshrined first-ballot within five years after his final full-time season.

Keselowski matched Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for second on the all-time wins list at NASCAR’s largest and most spectacular superspeedway and is four away from the record (10) set by Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Maybe The Intimidator is out of reach, but if accomplishing anything twice is what separates great from elite, surely six victories at Talladega has to mean something when the Hall of Fame conversation begins in earnest over the next decade.

“It’s more than I ever dreamed, I can tell you that,” Keselowski said. “I would pause and say Dale’s record is so far out there, yeah, I have a shot at it, but it’s a distant shot. I think you got to get seven before you can even think about 10. It’s still pretty cool to be on the same list with him on anything, that’s for sure, even if it’s second.”

To be sure, the Hall of Fame is already packed full of superstars that finished second to Earnhardt in nearly every category, so even if it’s second is pretty damn great.

Keselowski neared another record too, with 11 consecutive seasons with at least a single victory — 14th on the all-time list topped by Richard Petty’s 18. Again, Keselowski doesn’t have to top The King or The Intimidator to reach greatness.

In his own era, he’s already there.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I was thinking about that. It’s very special to me,” Keselowski said. “Kind of gives me some chills. I started out racing just hoping I could have a job, be able to race in the Truck Series with my family. I never envisioned winning at the Cup level, let alone even being at the Cup level.

“To win six races here at Talladega, it’s an incredible feeling. Have 11 straight winning seasons, that’s pretty cool, too. I’m sure I’m a long way behind (Petty) but hopefully we can catch up.”

Keselowski has paved a really compelling blue-collar pathway to the top that doesn’t receive enough attention due to his current stature as a superstar.

The comparison will be met with opposition because it’s borderline sacrilegious, but not only is Keselowski nearing various territories occupied by Earnhardt, but No. 2 is the closest thing the Cup Series has to a modern day No. 3.

That’s not to say he is Earnhardt or should be celebrated like Earnhardt, but there are certainly some parallels. Consider that Keselowski, just like Earnhardt, was the second-generation son of an everyman-journeyman short tracker turned NASCAR winner in Bob Keselowski.

Keselowski, like Earnhardt, quickly became a champion after gritting his way to the highest levels of the discipline.

While Earnhardt never particularly liked the idea of full-throttle superspeedway racing once restrictor plates were added in 1987, he took to it and became the all-time winningest driver in that category. But it also took him 20 years to win the Big One at Daytona.

Similarly, Keselowski now has six wins at Talladega, and despite all the speed and chances to win at Daytona, is still seeking his first in the Great American Race.

12 attempts and counting.

That’s what made his last lap defeat — one that came as a result of getting into the back of teammate (and leader) Joey Logano — and triggering a melee that sent Michael McDowell to victory lane sting so much.

“I mean, Daytona, that’s a big one,” Keselowski said. “Man, it stings still.”

Not even a sixth victory at Talladega, and one where he clearly applied the lessons learned from February, compensated for a 12th year of leaving Daytona in February without the Harley J. Earl Trophy.

“We’ll take it,” Keselowski said. “Beggars can’t be choosers. Certainly, I learned some lessons from that race and tried to apply them. It came together at the end. Michael McDowell gave me a great push, kind of like he did at Daytona. I was a little bit smarter how I handled it, so it all came together.”

It’s Keselowski’s first win since September at Richmond, a four-win campaign that produced yet another Championship Race berth, and a Final Four appearance that could have produced that elusive second title under different circumstances.

That 18-race winless drought is part of why Keselowski will not ever buy into his own press, or the overall numbers, or his own Hall of Fame consideration while his career is still active.

“I was told not to read the newspaper clippings when I started racing,” Keselowski said. “I was told the good is often exaggerated and so is the bad.”

Keselowski believes he should have won at least once during that stretch, especially Daytona, perhaps the Championship Race, and maybe even last Sunday at Richmond.

As cool and calculated as Keselowski keeps himself, how could the frustration not creep in at times?

“Yeah, you get frustrated when you’re not winning,” Keselowski said. “That’s my job, right? I feel like we had a car to win last weekend. Things didn’t come together. Felt like we had a car to win the Daytona 500. Didn’t come together. I start wondering if it’s ever going to come together. …

“This has been a tough year to start because I feel like we’ve had some really strong runs, things have fallen on us that were somewhat within our control, some not.”

So naturally Keselowski comes to the track where he claimed his first win, driving for James Finch in 2009, and where he’s won more than any other venue and does it again.

Keselowski is sixth in the standings, fifth in playoff points, and amongst the elite of his discipline with another chance to win that second championship.

His 35 wins is nowhere close to Gordon or Earnhardt, but in this era ripe with parity, it’s in a tier just below. It’s a resume that includes wins in the 2018 Southern 500, 2018 Brickyard 400 and 2020 Coca-Cola 600.

Again, for a blue collar, second-generation Michigander, who is going to the Hall of Fame whether he wants to accept the validation right now, this is an incredible career.

And at 37, with free agency looming over the horizon, there is still time to reach that next tier.

“I never thought I’d even have that chance,” Keselowski said. “It’s tremendous to me. I grew up loving the sport. I still love the sport. We fight sometimes, like husband and wife, but I still love the sport. I love the challenge every day of getting up, trying to find excellence. …

“It’s hard. It’s a hard sport. Any success you have means the world. So, I think to have my name on any list that has Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega, that’s a pretty big deal. I’m super happy and super proud to be there with them.”


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