PINEY FLATS — Mark Twain once said that the secret to success is making your vocation your vacation.
If that’s true, Brad Keselowski is a highly successful person.
“This sport is what I enjoy — it’s my passion,” Keselowski said. “I always felt racing was one of the few things that demanded 100 percent from me every day. Because of that, I had such a deep appreciation for the sport.
“There were very few things I could wake up early in the morning and really want to do.”
Keselowski was in the area on Tuesday promoting the upcoming Food City 500 race weekend. As his plane came in for a landing, the 27-year-old driver was treated to an aerial view of Bristol Motor Speedway, the site of his monumental victory in the Irwin Tools Night Race last August.
Keselowski’s win in Bristol capped a four-race surge that included two victories, a runner-up and a third-place finish. That stretch of races was largely responsible for qualifying the second-year driver for the Chase for the Sprint Cup and elevating Keselowski’s status in the eyes of race fans and media types alike.
But thanks to his hard-charging driving style, Keselowski has yet to win any popularity contests among his peers in the NASCAR garage. He freely admits that earning the respect of the drivers he shares the track with each week remains a work in progress.
“Respect is a funny thing. It’s not something I necessarily understand,” he said. “I think success definitely breeds respect, and we did have some success last year.
“Certainly if we have more success, we’ll get more respect. That’s where our focus is.”
Part of the issue, as Keselowski sees it, is that the Cup garage is like a high school where the seniors pick on the freshmen. But with the way the sport has evolved in recent years, there are hardly any new freshmen arriving each season and the seniors never seem to graduate.
“For a guy like me, I’ve been in the sport for 2½ years, but I’m still considered a freshman,” Keselowski said. “That means the seniors are sill picking on the freshman. I really wish a new crop of freshmen would come in.”
For now, Keselowski is focusing on the things he can control, and that starts under the roof of his shop at Penske Racing. The offseason saw the tumultuous exit of Kurt Busch, whom Keselowski called an “underrated” teammate because of his willingness to share information and advice.
Now, Keselowski is hoping to form another strong bond with new teammate A.J. Allmendinger as the season unfolds.
“A.J. brings a lot of energy. He’s a ball of energy, and that’s never a bad thing,” Keselowski said. “It’s like a marriage — it doesn’t work on its own, you have to make it work.”
Even though Keselowski is fighting to gain acceptance among the veterans, he takes comfort in how far he’s come in such a short time. He still remembers his first trip to BMS, in 1995, where he sneaked into the grandstands as an 11-year-old to watch the race.
He was too young to enter the garage area at the time, let alone drive a race car. But now that he’s been to victory lane in a Cup race, he can’t help but wonder how far he can go.
“The sport is all I’ve ever known and I want to climb to the top of the mountain,” Keselowski said. “That’s where my head is at.”