Brad Keselowski is not your father’s NASCAR champion, unless perhaps your father is a dedicated party animal.
“Wooo! I’ve got a little buzz here. I’ve been drinking for a little bit,” said Keselowski as he toasted his own Sprint Cup season championship won here Sunday evening, swigging from a preposterously huge glass of beer bearing the logo of his car’s main sponsor.
“Make some noise!” he exhorted a willing crowd during a post-race TV interview. “You’re on SportsCenter! I don’t know if these people know they’re on SportsCenter. They’re gonna watch it later and say, ‘Hey, that was me!’ ”
Keselowski’s merry, beery grin made him look even younger than 28, which is young enough for a guy reigning atop his sport in only his third full year at its top level.
We can’t say if Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway signaled a new era for the sport, the first of many titles. But we needn’t wait to suggest the youthful, smiling new face of NASCAR is fresh, welcome, worthy of a toast.
Later Sunday Keselowski trotted tardily into his media news conference cradling an outlandishly large bottle of champagne. (It would not shock me to hear he was late because an impromptu game of beer pong had broken out.)
How will being the face of NASCAR change you, Brad?
“Well, I’m going to meet some cool people,” he said, laughing. “I always wanted to date a celebrity. I’m just throwing that that out there!”
Keselowski is the first Sprint Cup champion born in the 1980s, the first to embrace social media, symbolically as well as literally the first with an opportunity to grow the sport’s popularity by appealing to a different demographic.
He undoubtedly is the first season champ to have been fined ($25,000, just last week) for having a cellphone in his race car, for example, and Tweeting during a red-flag delay. He is a smartphone-aholic. Heck, just Sunday, less than three hours before this race, he was exchanging tweets with former football star Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson.
Johnson, a fan, asked Keselowski what was up.
“Chillin at the track bro where are you?” replied Keselowski.
Soon enough the Tweeter would reign as season champ after a 15th-place finish in Sunday’s race proved plenty good enough. He had entered with a 20-point lead over five-time winner Jimmie Johnson, the only other driver with a chance to win the 2012 title.
Keselowski all but clinched when Johnson’s car was knocked from the race with an oil-line problem on the 226th of 267 laps — but Keselowski’s finish would have been enough to clinch the championship even if Johnson had remained in the race and even won it.
Four-time champ Jeff Gordon ended up winning the race — but the day (and the enormous glass of beer) belonged to only one man.
Gordon toasted the new king and understood the significance of it.
“His ability to reach out through social media to the younger crowd, he’s someone who wants to be that,” Gordon said. “He’s entertaining. You never know what you’re going to get with Brad.”
Keselowski has rubbed some the wrong way with his aggressive driving and his cockiness, which Gordon alluded to in saying, “Every champion I’ve ever seen win their first one, they always come out with a whole new perspective on past champions. It makes you grow up.”