BRISTOL — Tall and thin, no one will likely mistake Brad Keselowski for a UFC fighter.
However, recent performances have solidified Keselowski’s reputation as a tough guy. After a violent crash in testing at Road Atlanta left him with both feet injured and a broken ankle, Keselowski drove his No. 2 Dodge to victory days late at Pocono. A week later, he finished runner-up on the Watkins Glen road course.
The question now is whether Keselowski can survive racing 500 laps on the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway in tonight’s IRWIN Tools Night Race.
“You’ve got one of the toughest races of the year with Bristol, it’s 500 laps on a short track,” said Keselowski, who won the Food City 250 Nationwide race at Bristol in 2008. “There’s no good time for an injury, but this is certainly the worst time for an injury.”
Although he refused to take any pain pills for the fear of them slowing him down, the 26-year-old Michigan native won’t say he’s tougher than other folks who battle adversity day in and day out.
“Being considered tough is relative to who you’re talking about and being compared to,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m just driving race cars. I just have to find a way to make it work. I’m not sure what that’s going to take, but I’m just going to have to shut off the pain and get in there and drive.”
Keselowski, the defending NASCAR Nationwide Series champion, has been banged up before in racing accidents. He said racing is no different than other professional sports where it’s not unusual at some point of the season for a driver to have to overcome injuries.
“This is probably my worst (injury),” he said. “I’ve never had both feet injured at the same time and everything else that comes with that. It’s just the way it is. I think in a long race season, at some point you’re going to have to deal with injuries or deal with what happens; if we can make it through this, we can make it through anything.”
After his Pocono win, Keselowski made sure to mention the sacrifices of American troops overseas. With a family member serving in Afghanistan, where 30 service members recently lost their lives in a helicopter crash, it put into perspective what he was going through.
“I have a cousin in the Navy Seals. One of the guys who died over there was someone he knew, was friends with,” Keselowski said. “He told me a little bit about it and it kind of put things in perspective.
“I might not be feeling great, but those are the guys that are really making sacrifices. We’re just driving race cars for a living. We’re not curing cancer or saving the world like those guys are.”
The recovery time on the foot injury is projected at five and a half months, although Keselowski said for a race car driver it’s never fast enough.
While teammate Parker Kligerman drove his No. 22 Nationwide Series car on Friday night, Keselowski said no one is getting in his Sprint Cup ride.
With a fuel-mileage win earlier this season at Kansas, and Keselowski 14th in the points heading into this past weekend’s race at Michigan, he doesn’t want to risk missing the “Chase for the Cup” playoffs. Besides there is a reputation as a tough guy to uphold.
“I’m not putting someone else in my car,” he said. “I didn’t last week and I won’t this week. We’ll just figure it out.”