Brad Keselowski took dead aim at targets inside Shooter’s Edge indoor rifle range on Tuesday. He then talked about aiming toward another Bristol victory.
Keselowski, who will enter next month’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway as the track’s most recent Sprint Cup winner, explained that his victory in the IRWIN Tools Night Race last August was the biggest of his career.
“The Bristol night race is definitely one of the sport’s marquee events,” said Keselowski, a four-time winner on the Sprint Cup tour. “There are races which pay more, some like Daytona get a little higher billing, but in the heart of my drivers, they would tell you the Bristol night race is right up there with them from a prestige factor.
“It was truly an honor to win that race.”
It was part of remarkable weekend, capped off by Keselowski giving rides around the speedway to military veterans the day after the race.
“That whole weekend was special,” he said. “Friday, I was able to entertain military veterans from my (Brad Keselowski) foundation and watch the Nationwide Series race in the suites with them.
“It was a lot of fun to enjoy a full weekend experience wih all those people who made so many sacrifices to make this possible. Then, to win in from of them, it was good. It was a really special weekend, one of the best weekends of my life.”
The breakout star of last season, Keselowski helped parlay that Bristol weekend into a fifth-place finish in the 2011 point standings.
Driving the No. 2 Dodge for Penske Racing, he has embraced a role as leader within the organization which includes new teammate AJ Allmendinger.
“I take my leadership role very seriously,” the 27-year-old driver said. “I remember the days I was just starting in the sport, and even before that as a little kid.
“The first time I came to Bristol was 1995. I was 11 years old and couldn’t get inside the garage. So I had to sneak in the grandstands because my parents didn’t have any tickets. I dreamed of just being inside the garage, let alone drive one of the race cars. One day to be a part of it was a natural progression. This sport is all I’ve ever known and I want to climb to the top of the mountain.“
It looked like he might climb to the top last season. Entering the 10-race “Chase to the Sprint Cup” as a wild-card entry, the Michigan native was the hottest driver over the summer stretch. It included a win at Pocono only one week after breaking his foot in a testing crash at Road Atlanta.
Despite the success, he was snubbed inside the garage area by some of the sport’s veteran drivers.
“I kind of compare it to a high school style system,” he said. “You have your seniors, juniors, sophomores and freshmen. The way the sport has evolved the past five years, there are very few freshmen, very few rookies inside the sport.
“Even though I’ve been in the sport 2 1/2 years, I’m still considered a freshman. I haven’t elevated to sophomore status, so the seniors are still picking on the freshmen. I really wish a new crop of freshmen would come in and make it easier.”
While a newer driver in the Sprint Cup Series, few who can match his racing heritage.
He is a second-generation driver with his father, Bob, and his uncle, Ron, both stars of the Midwestern racing circuits, who found limited success in NASCAR.
The same holds true for older brother, Brian, a three-time winner in the ARCA Series, who is still looking for a first top-five finish in a major NASCAR series.
On the other hand, Brad, who caught his first big break as a driver for Dale Earnhardt Jr., has definitely become a star on racing’s biggest stage. In 2010, his Nationwide Series championship was the first NASCAR title of any kind for team owner Roger Penske.
Keselowski, who commented what an honor it is to drive the the No. 2 “Blue Deuce” for Penske, credited much of his success to the team led by crew chief Paul Wolfe.
However, he adds the guy in the driver’s seat is as dedicated as anyone in the sport.
“This sport is what I enjoy. It’s my passion,” he said. “Growing up, I always felt like racing was one of the few things which demanded 100 percent from me every day. Because of that, I’ve always had a deep appreciation for the sport and have always dedicated a lot to the sport.”