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Jerry Bonkowski

Cup championship isn't an ending for Keselowski, it's just the start

Posted November 19, 2012

— Brad Keselowski, 2012 Sprint Cup champion.

Has a catchy ring, doesn't it?

The 28-year-old from suburban Detroit on Sunday became the 29th different Cup champion in NASCAR history, earning the sport's biggest achievement in just his third full-time season in the series.

In so doing, Keselowski not only became one of the younger Cup champions, he presented legendary team owner Roger Penske with his first Cup championship after nearly 30 years of chasing excellence in the stock car world.

In so doing, Keselowski did for Penske what two NASCAR Hall of Famers – Bobby Allison and Rusty Wallace – as well as 2004 Cup champ Kurt Busch (won while with Roush Racing) and Ryan Newman couldn't do: seal the championship deal.

At 28, Keselowski has reached the zenith of his brief (less than four full-time seasons) career thus far in Sprint Cup racing. But this won't be a one-and-done championship for Keselowski, not by any means.

Keselowski not only will become the new face of NASCAR with Sunday's championship, he has the crew chief (Paul Wolfe), the team owner (Penske) and the organization (Penske Racing) to not only repeat next season, but to become a multi-championship winner in the coming seasons.

Much has been said about Keselowski being the ultimate underdog this season, and to a certain extent, that was true. Just days before the Chase kicked off at Chicago in September, Keselowski boldly predicted that he had as good a chance of winning the championship as any other driver.

That was a pretty heady comment, considering he was racing against the likes of five-time champ Jimmie Johnson, four-time champ Jeff Gordon and three-time and defending champ Tony Stewart in this year's Chase.

But after his surprise win to kick off the Chase at Chicago, and then the way he stayed on top or close to the top of the points standings in the successive nine races, Keselowski proved he was for real and that he could back up his talk with equally bold results.

Perhaps more than any other driver has been able to do in the last seven years, Keselowski managed to get into Johnson's head during several episodes within the Chase, causing Johnson to uncharacteristically either get nervous or make outright mistakes.

That nervousness stretched to Johnson's pit crew Sunday, when a costly pit road penalty for a dropped lug nut was the beginning of the end. And just a few precious laps later, Johnson's car – and his championship hopes – were last seen being pushed back to the Sprint Cup garage. End of race, end of season, end of hopes for another title.

Keselowski has picked up several nicknames in his short time in the Sprint Cup series, including "Bad Brad," "The Kid (some use a slight deviation of "The Detroit Kid") and "The Polish Rocket."

He lived up to all of those not only Sunday, but throughout the 2012 season. And what's more, it's a safe bet that he's going to not only maintain those colorful monikers next season and for many more seasons to come, he's also going to pick up even more names in the future.

Like two-time, or three-time, four-time or more Sprint Cup champion.

Keselowski's back story is refreshing: a blue collar kid from suburban Detroit who had to fight and scratch and claw for everything he ever got. He not only worked hard, he earned every cent, every win, every trophy.

But none was bigger than the championship trophy and the $5 million-plus winner's check he took home Sunday.

There's one other part about Keselowski that bears mentioning: he's a young kid, complete with being a social media king with his Twitter expertise, but at the same time, he's also an old soul of sorts.

Keselowski is the kind of driver that disenchanted fans who have left the sport may suddenly gravitate to and ultimately come back to. He's an old school driver that more than once it has been said he was born 30 or 40 years too late, that he would have been a natural to compete with some of the sport's early greats like Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and even the late Dale Earnhardt.

What's more, Keselowski is about as clean cut and All-American as you can get. If it's smart, NASCAR will embrace Keselowski and make him its new poster child for many more years to come. He brings a unique quality that no other current driver, save for maybe three-time Cup champ Tony Stewart and the blue collar roots he came from, has in the sport today.

And perhaps the most amazing fact is Keselowski achieved the ultimate goal of all Sprint Cup drivers – becoming the champion – in less than four full-time seasons.

Say what you want about some of the sport's other stars like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and others, but Keselowski has all of them beat by a country mile because he's the only one who can say he was the first of the group to win the coveted Sprint Cup championship.

One of the things that impressed me the most about Keselowski's championship on Sunday was how, while being interviewed on ESPN, he humbly said that he might not be there on that stage, at that particular time, had it not been for the mechanical failure that befell Jimmie Johnson.

That was true sincerity on Keselowski's part. It was half pure humility and half outstanding sportsmanship. He knew he didn't have the best car Sunday. He knew that even coming into the race with a 20-point lead, he still was going to be looked at by many as an underdog.

But that did not deter him. Even if others didn't believe in him, he wasn't going to stop believing in himself, his team and his organization.

That kind of belief is why Keselowski is where he is now: the biggest champion in the biggest motorsport series in the country.

And more than likely, it will also be the first of many more championships to come.

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