Brad Keselowski and NASCAR are partners in crime.
It is a wink-wink arrangement. Don’t ask, don’t tell. Some things are better left unsaid.
Keselowski is playing the role of “Bluto,” as NASCAR races devolve into Animal House hijinks.
Who is going to end up with pie in the face next Sunday in Phoenix?
“Boys have at it” has morphed into “Boys Have at Brad Keselowski,” as Bad Brad seems intent on using his car to bash his way through a gauntlet of drivers. Jeff Gordon was the last guy to feel the pinch, when Brad moved him out of the way in the closing laps of Sunday’s race in Texas.
Tempers flared. And then punches flew, when Kevin Harvick stepped into the fray and pushed Keselowski into the scrum.
This is exactly what NASCAR wants, even as officials consider “penalties” to the offending parties. This is the equivalent of Bonnie and Clyde chastising their children for stealing a pack of bubble gum.
Keselowski isn’t committing a crime.
He is driving up ratings and interest.
What’s not to like?
“When your only opportunity to advance is to win, he’s got to do all he can to win,” said Jimmie Johnson, Sunday’s race winner who became Mr. Irrelevant in light of the proceedings. “So the system is breeding this. It was by design. I think Brian France sat back and looked long and hard at this and was hopeful that these moments would happen.
“It’s changing the way things take place on the track. When I think back to when I started, we’d point people by, let them go. There was this gentleman agreement on the racetrack. Everybody told you to study Mark Martin, watch how he lets people go. That hasn’t happened in years. We’ll cut each other’s throat any chance we get.”
I asked Keselowski about the dynamics of being the bad guy, a role he seems to embrace, in much more quieter ambiance of the media center Sunday night. He gave a long, articulate response, one that should make people think before bashing him.
“I’m here to win races for Roger Penske and for my team. That means when there’s a gap, I have to take it. If it requires a tiny bit of rubbing, that’s OK. It’s not anything I don’t expect on the other side. Plenty of times where I got rubbed. It will go both ways. That’s OK by me.
“I’m not asking anyone to take – I’m not trying to dish out something that I couldn’t take myself. But these guys have their own code, and they race differently than that. That’s their right.
“We’ll go through these battles. I’ve gone through them before and come out stronger. I’ll go through them again and come out stronger, a better racecar driver.
“But what I’m not going to do is back down. I’m not going to get in the spot where I was in 2013 where, you know, I tried to be exactly what they all wanted me to be, because what they want me to be is a loser, and I’m not here to lose, I’m here to win. That means I’m going to have to drive my car harder, stronger, faster than everybody out there. That’s what I feel like I did today.
“With a 10th- to 15th-place car, we almost won today. That happened because of that attitude and that fight. That’s going to make some people mad because they don’t race that way. I understand that.”
“Like I said, I’m not trying to dish something out I couldn’t take. The way I raced today is what I would define as great racing that defined this sport and I hope it will continue to define it for years to come.
“If a guy like me caves, whether it’s Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, list out the drivers that I’ve had run-ins with, whenever they try to push back on me, if I cave, that will end that run in this sport, and that will be a shame. That would be a shame for everybody. It would be a shame for the history of this sport. It would be a shame for the fans that come here to see us race 100 percent. That’s what I did today. For that I’m not going to be ashamed.”
Neither should NASCAR.
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