|What's Bad Brad's Problem?|
So what makes Brad so bad?
Easy. He wants it more.
It’s been apparent since his first Sprint Cup victory in 2009, when he refused to back off at Talladega and sent Carl Edwards flying, that he wasn’t going to give an inch to the more established NASCAR drivers. Charlotte and its aftermath was just the latest chapter.
He has repeatedly drawn the ire of NASCAR’s superstars, who complain he is too aggressive on the track and too outspoken off it.
So just how bad does Brad want it?
Perhaps the best indication came in 2011 when he sustained a badly broken ankle, hurt his back and suffered other injuries when his brakes failed and he crashed during a test at Road Atlanta. His hopes of reaching the Chase appeared over. But just a few days later he was back in the car and winning at Pocono, finished a slam bang second at Watkins Glen, third at Michigan and then won again at Bristol to make the Chase. He didn’t win the Chase, but the stage was set for the following year.
He has continued to tangle with Edwards over the years and had multiple run-ins with Hamlin and Busch. This season the cars of Keselowski and Kenseth seem to be joined together at the bumper.
At Richmond, Kenseth repeatedly blocked Keselowski and cost him a chance at victory, a move BK called “mind boggling” at the time. The very next week Keselowski spun in front of the field at Talladega while running six laps down, touching off the latest of the “Big Ones” he had contributed to at the track and involving 15 cars, including Kenseth.
“If it was the other way around, if it was anybody else except for him, we’d all be getting lectured," Kenseth said afterward. "I didn’t know he was that many laps down honestly. He came down in the front of the 10 car early and spun out and was racing pretty aggressively there to try and get it back.”
Others saw it another way. Even six laps down, he hadn’t given up.
Keselowski also has repeatedly outraced and outsmarted others, especially at Talladega. He made a dramatic last lap pass of Kenseth in 2012 that left everyone shaking their heads and wondering, “how’d he do that?” Afterwards he displayed the type of brashness that he’s become known for, but doesn’t always sit well with other drivers.
"Hell, it's my job to be good,” Keselowski said. “That's what I get paid for. I don't get paid to suck at this. If I did, I'm not driving for the right guy."
So it’s no surprise Keselowski has few friends among other NASCAR drivers. And that’s apparently fine with him. It’s one reason he lobbied Roger Penske to add Joey Logano to the team. An outcast after being thrown under Joe Gibbs’s motor coach by Hamlin and Busch, Logano has been resented by many in the garage area ever since joining the NASCAR ranks with his “Sliced Bread” moniker. In contrast, Keselowski and Logano seem like the perfect fit.
All of which sets the stage for an interesting Talladega race. Notice I didn’t say exciting. Can’t say much of the racing so far in the Chase has been exciting and don’t really expect things to change at Talladega, at least until the last lap or so.
However, you can expect to Dale Earnhardt Jr., as he usually does, to go to the front. He’s also one of the few friends Keselowski has among the drivers. BK will go with him, flanked (guarded?) by Logano and Ryan Blaney, who Penske has brought in for the race to serve as Brad’s wingman. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see Earnhardt teammate Jimmie Johnson break with his past Talladega strategy and run up front as well. Kenseth, who also may need a win, is more likely to lag behind for much of the race.
Earnhardt, Johnson and Keselowski all need a win at Talladega to make the Chase and there’s a good chance all three will be near the front at the end. Only one will make it.
Whoever wants it the most.