Keselowski has won other major races like the Southern 500 and Brickyard 400, but he believes Saturday’s Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway has the prestige to match any of them.
“It was one of the biggest wins of my career,” Keselowski said about his 2011 win in the event. “If you look at the history of race tracks, you look through the books at some and you’re like, ‘That guy won there. I don’t know much about him.’ Then you look at Bristol, specifically the Night Race, the people who have won that race, it’s like a race of champions.
“The last 20-some years, it’s all champions or guys with 30-plus wins who have won that race. The Who’s Who of NASCAR have won the Night Race at Bristol and that gives it some credibility within the sport.”
With 30 career wins and the 2012 Cup Series championship, Keselowski is on that “Who’s Who” list. There is the extra motivation that Bristol started handing out trophies for wins after Keselowski won the 2012 Food City 500. With so many champions’ names on the trophy, Keselowski sees it as a true status symbol.
“There’s a badge of honor with that race,” he said. “I read the quote, ‘That success is rented every day. You can’t buy it. Hard work and effort is the money to pay for it.’ Applying that to racing, it’s such a what have you done for me sport. You can win a championship and be a nobody in a year if you’re not performing. You’re trying to pay your rent as far as being an elite driver. Winning certain places, winning Bristol, that makes you an elite driver.”
After he had such early success on the high-banked oval, the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford has finished no higher than 16th over the last seven Bristol races. He believe changes to the track are much to blame.
“We kind of dominated the track for a couple of years where I felt we had the best car every race,” he said. “It’s because we could get around the bottom of (turns) 1 and 2 so well. Then, they ground it and it became where you have to run the top of the track.
“We’re not as good running the top as we were the bottom. Over the last year or two, when they started putting the PJ1 down, it’s made the bottom faster again — where we’re good again. When we can run the bottom, we’re good at Bristol.”
According to him, the PJ1 compound added to enhance the racing can make the track more treacherous at times. When it’s cold for example, the driver said it doesn’t have grip and is slick. As the track heats up, it makes Bristol an easier track to drive.
Much of the 2019 season has seemed easy for the 35-year-old driver, who has three wins and is currently sixth in the point standings. He’s coming off winning his second pole of the year at Michigan, although a 19th-place finish wasn’t what he wanted. He gives his performance so far a solid grade, but pointed out there’s still plenty of racing to go.
“It’s a good year although you don’t completely rate a season until it’s over and if you win a championship or not,” he said. “That’s what makes or breaks the year to me. But where we’re at right now, it’s a solid A-minus.”