14 from ’14, Day 8: Brad Keselowski, NASCAR’s most important driver

Talladega cupcakes!Running down a bunch of stories I wrote this year. Here’s one on the most polarizing driver of 2014. And that photo commemorates the Talladega cupcakes I received this year, the flavor of which I’ll leave to your imagination.

Brad Keselowski made a lot of people very mad in 2014. I wasn’t one of them. I’ve always enjoyed hearing what he has to say about the sport, about NASCAR history, about life, and even when I don’t agree with him I appreciate him breaking out of the usual routine and speaking his mind.

Of course, I don’t have to race against him, and that’s where he’s drawn the most heat. At the fall race at Talladega, the Chase was in full swing and Keselowski was coming off a fight with both Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth in Charlotte. Here’s a quick reminder:

Keselowski came into Talladega needing a win to advance to the next level of the Chase. Now, expecting to win at Talladega is like expecting to tweet at Jennifer Lawrence and get a date. And yet here was Keselowski, outrunning every other driver lap after lap, getting the win he needed to get. It was one of the most impressive all-or-nothing racing performances I’ve ever seen.

Great driving combined with an outsize personality and polarizing showmanship? That’s what NASCAR was built on, and after Keselowski’s win I wrote as much:

Depending on your perspective, he’s either aggravating or exhilarating, a savior or a sonofabitch. But no matter what, you can’t ignore him. He’s responsible for two of the greatest NASCAR TV moments of recent years: his exuberant Miller Lite-fueled championship interview at Homestead in 2012, and his WWE-style throwdown with Kenseth last week at Charlotte. For a sport teetering on relegation to niche status, that’s the kind of publicity a hundred sponsors can’t buy.

Here’s the rest of the article.  Keselowski would be at the epicenter of an even bigger fight two weeks later at Texas, cementing him as the sport’s great “villain.” And that’s very good news indeed for everyone involved, because Keselowski seems to run on fans’ rage. He fell out of the championship hunt before the season finale, but his performance in the Chase showed that he’ll be a thorn in the sides of the people who most need thorns for a long time to come.

Previous 14 from ’14:
Day 1: In victory lane for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Daytona 500 win
Day 2: US Open: A father, a son, a wheelchair, and Phil Mickelson
Day 3: Which college boasts the three best cross-sport athletes?
Day 4: FSU-Miami: Why won’t you die, Florida State?
Day 5: NFL playoffs: The refs robbed the Panthers!
Day 6: Behind the scenes at the NASCAR championship
Day 7: At the Masters, the yin and yang of Bubba Watson

Jay

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