Breaking Bad, Brad Keselowski

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Just as the last race of the NASCAR Sprint Cup at Miami Homestead was about to take place on Sunday,  I took to Twitter, searched out Brad Keselowski, and had the distinct honour of becoming follower number 1,487.  Considering all the attention Keselowski has been getting In NASCAR, I was surprised to find the number of his followers on Twitter was considerable low within the context of his notoriety.  I later found out he has another adjoining Twitter account with upwards of 3,300 followers which is still not a lot.  However, building on Keselowskis' career in 2009, there's  little doubt the numbers on each of Twitter account will jump considerably  in 2010, if Brad Keselowski stays true to type and continues to 'break bad'.

Next season Brad Keselowski (BK) who has gained an enormous amount of notoriety for his aggressive driving style as well as being unapologetic for it, will be part of the legendary Rodger Penske's 'Penske Racing' Team.   The trajectory of Keselowski career has been leading towards gaining prominence in well established Racing Team for some time now.   In December 2008, just two years into being part of Kelly and Dale Earnhardts' JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, Keselowski won the inaugural Most Popular Driver award via popular voting by fans on  Rumour was that he was destined to join Rick Hendrick's formidable 'Hendrick Motorsports' team alongside Jimmie Johnson, until it became clear Mark Martin who is Johnsons' current team-mate/rival showed no sign or intention of slowing down in the near future. Therefore, Keselowskis' ultimate decision to join Penske Racing in 2010 is acknowledged as being the next best thing to joining Henrick.  It's worth noting that despite the legendary status of Rodger Penske in Open-Wheel competition, Penske Racing has never won a NASCAR title.

Aside from the more prevalent talking points during NASCAR's 2009 season including Jimmie Johnson inevitably winning a 4th NASCAR title, Mark Martin's inspiring close run to Johnson, the complexities of  restrictor racing at Talledega, and Juan Pablo Montoya finally getting to grips with NASCAR;  Brad Keselowski has also  stolen some   headlines  for himself allowing himself to be portrayed as NASCAR's very own “Bad Guy”.

On the final race day of NASCAR 2009 in Miami (the Ford 400), Jimmie Johnson finally (as expected) clenched his 4th NASCAR title, by passing the Chequered Flag in 5th position.  Considering all he really needed to do was finish in 25th position, he was twenty places ahead of what was necessary.  Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin secured his 4th win in the Chase and finished 5th overall.  Brad Keselowskis' replacing David Stremme in a Dodge Charger for the final three races in the Chase for Penske Racing finished in 25th position.

A day before the seasons' finale in which all accounts were finally settled, Denny Hamlin was out to settle a much publicised score of his own with the young Driver who finished 3rd overall in NASCARs Nationwide Series (NNS).  During the final NNS race on Saturday, Keselowskis' Number 88 Chevrolet finished 12th in the Ford 300.  It could have probably been better for Keselowski, but, for his sins, he had to endure some payback from Denny Hamlin driving his No 11 FedEx Toyota.  Hamlin appeared to have deliberately sent Keselowski into two 360 degree tailspins on the 34th lap, with approval and applause from various crews in Pit Lane; thus, leaving Keselowski with the task of having to fight his way forward from 38th position back to 12th.  There were two significant points being stressed by Hamlin's deliberate bumping of Keselowskis' Chevrolet.

Firstly, Hamlin a former 2006 NASCAR Rookie of The Year was keeping his word. He'd told just about anyone who'd cared to listen he would and he subsequently did by “cashing in his chips” against Keselowski in Miami. Interviewed after the race Hamlin expressed surprise at having only incurred a “one lap penalty” though he had expected a 'two lap penalty' for his pre-meditated iniquitous act. Hamlin claimed he wanted to send Keselowski a message saying “I'm a man of my word”.

Secondly, most observers, especially NASCAR Drivers, agree with Hamlin that Keselowski  deserved some payback, hence the universal approval of  Hamlins' action on Pit Road.  The incident, albeit anticipated,  was the inevitable culmination of a feud that has been brewing between Keselowski and Hamlin since Charlotte in 2008 when a mass brawl  broke out in the Pits.

Since that race in Charlotte 2008, there have been about three other incidents including Pheonix and Dover, where Keselowski and Hamlin have locked horns, thus providing an alternative injection of excitement into the 2009 NASCAR Nationwide season.  Seizing the opportunity to generate some hype, the media has been playing it up while tut-ting it's disapproval on the sidelines.   The more dramatic stuff has been blamed on Keselowski's driving, which some believe, struggles to makes up for what it lacks in brilliance, by utilising raw aggression.  According to sources, Keselowski has been culpable for drawing other Drivers into the mix with his aggressive driving style, thereby contributing to a universal disaffection for him by fellow Drivers.

Vociferous opprobrium alongside  some muted admiration towards Keselowski was in part the reason why he had to attend a meeting with NASCAR CEO Brian France  earlier this month to be reminded of how things work at NASCARs top level  of racing.  There's little doubt that Keselowski is a rapidly rising star in NASCAR, and though  avowed supporters of Keselowski seem to be in a minority at the moment, some have credited Keselowski with bringing back good old fashioned rivalry to racing.  His battle with Hamlin serve as a reminder of a tradition of NASCAR racing that dates back to the first complete flag to flag televised Daytona 500 in 1979, when the Allison Brothers (Bobby and Donnie) clashed with Cale Yarborough and ghot physical.  However, these are also very cynical times for NASCAR.

In what seemed to be an effort to appear cynically relevant; Commentator Tim Haddock writing in his LA Times syndicated Blog suggests the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) is currently in a better position than NASCAR.   The reason behind Haddocks' assertion  being Jimmie Johnson winning a 4th consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup title shows how NASCAR needs intense rivalry in order to eliminate mundane predictability.  Considering the hitherto rivalry between Keselowski and Hamlin, add to that Montoya's aggressive racing against all comers this year, Haddocks' drawn conclusion on NASCAR appears populist but nonetheless misplaced.  As an alternatively, he has the audacity to hold up Tony Schmacher who won his 6th NHRA Top Fuel Championship against fierce opposition as being a more worthy,  less mediocre Championship to Jimmie Johnson in NASCAR.

Firstly, the format for Drag Racing is almost an acquired taste. This racing format demands that barring  contact with wall or exploding along  the allotted straight lanes, the races are naturally very close. Hence, Reaction Time (RT) alongside Elapsed Time (ET) is factored into the equation (i.e. the Hole Shot). Even so,  most of the commercially atractive action is limit to Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and maybe some Pro Bike….in short burst of action.

Secondly, the NHRA is far from perfect and also subject to manipulation.  Arguably more than others as it's heavily dependent on it Sponsors.  If a team in NASCAR had appeared to have thrown a race like John Force did on September 7 in Indianapolis,  tacitly admit to it; and then be accused of doing so in public by another competitor the way Cruz Pedregon did; one can assume the consequences would been scandalous and very dire.

Numerous questions were raised about NASCAR in 2009, to a point where Brian France has had to come out in defence of 'The Chase' as a racing format, while rightfully  giving  credit to Jimmie Johnsons'  preparation for success with the Hendrick Racing Crew.  However, no one can question Keselowskis' commitment to the sport demonstrated on racing circuit to the frustrations of Denny Hamlin.  So, while knowledgeable commentators like Tim Haddock make the obligatory pessimistic assessment of NASCAR in 2009, Brad Keselowski brings a much appreciated diversion.   One can only hope he stays true to type in 2010 and keeps 'breaking bad' on Denny Hamlin.

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About author
Charles is a regular contributor to TCF, he's based in London and can be found on twitter at @IBMsports
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