Keselowski Learning When to Fight
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on February 14, 2014 | 11:30 A.M. EST
Former champion Brad Keselowski said he'll still make his opinion known if he doesn't see progress being made in a particular area. (Photo: Jeff Wackerlin)
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - When you fight for so long, it can be hard to stop.
Brad Keselowski is learning, though, that sometimes it’s better to try a different tact.
Celebrated for his outspokenness, Keselowski is holding back - publicly. He says that “back channels” with NASCAR have opened in the last year, providing an outlet to express his opinion instead of going to the media or Twitter every time.
Some may see this as Keselowski being muzzled, but he says he’ll speak out publicly when needed.
“I’m still going to be vocal about something that I disagree about that there’s no progress or no change being made on, but if there’s progress or change being made, then why be a (jerk),’’ he said.
It’s a sign the 30-year-old better understands the sport’s politics, his role as a former champion and how to manage a fighter’s approach molded by a lifetime in racing.
For years, he scrapped for what he earned in racing and even then it wasn’t enough. A third-generation racer, Keselowski held the steering wheel when his family’s operation folded in 2006 because of lack of sponsorship.
Keselowski has said that time was “as low as it gets.
“To think that I was a part of bankrupting my family to try to pursue your own dream ... you feel so selfish and incredibly low as a human being you don’t even know how you’re going to recover from that.’’
When he raced - and won - with a broken ankle in 2011, he told people that the pain was nothing compared to what had gone through earlier in his career.
Brian Keselowski once described his younger brother’s stubbornness by saying: “Once he has it in his mind he’s going to do something, that’s what he’s going to do. But that’s the racing mentality. If you don’t have an all-out effort to make this work, it won’t work.’’
So it is with that background that Keselowski rose to be a Sprint Cup champion and become one of the sport’s most vocal competitors. He’s questioned NASCAR, criticized drivers and offered an opinion on many subjects from NASCAR’s baseline concussion testing policy to what other teams are doing.
His bluntness came at a price. He estimates he’s been fined nearly $100,000 for various comments. He admits his critical comments last year on a variety of subjects “didn’t help’’ him.
Car owner Roger Penske applauds Keselowski for his ideas if not how he always expresses them.
"I think he brings a different viewpoint to the sport, which is important,’’ Penske said.
Six-time champion Jimmie Johnson said that more can be accomplished in discreet ways.
“If you want to get something done within NASCAR, saying it through the microphone is not going to help you any,’’ he said. “Fans appreciate hearing those outspoken words. (But) there’s politics in everything.”
While some didn’t like Keselowski’s message, it was hard to argue against his passion. He wants the sport to better, it’s just that his approach didn’t always work with those in position to make such changes.
"First and foremost, if I have to be the bad guy in this garage or in this sport so that the series and American motorsports can move forward, it doesn't bother me one bit,’’ he said last year.
The comment came only a few months after he stood before his competitors as its champion and proclaimed he wanted to be a leader and help the sport move forward.
He now sees there is more than one way to make that happen.
“Are there things I could do better?” Keselowski said. “Absolutely, but the mistakes are what build your character and help you become the person that you are and that you can learn from, so they’re only a mistake if you don’t grow and learn from them.’’
Now, when Keselowski has something to say, the public might not always hear about it. Or have to decipher what he’s really saying.
“I talk a lot in code and just hope you guys can figure it out,’’ Keselowski said to media members.