Keselowski’s story is not all smiles and giant beers. There were emotional elements to Sunday.
The season championship was, incredibly, the first in a 23-year NASCAR career for motor-sports (and IndyCar) legend Roger Penske, the car owner.
The crowd also marks a sweet sendoff for Dodge, which re-entered the sport in 2001 and will leave it as a champion now. Keselowski’s season title was the first for Dodge since Richard Petty in 1975, and, now, the last.
Keselowski’s personal story also has its heartstrings. Behind the outwardly cocky façade there has been hurt, and guilt.
He spun his victory doughnuts in the infield grass as the crowd roared approval Sunday and so many of those old emotions were lifting just about then, lifting like those fireworks booming and blooming overheard.
Keselowski was arriving at the very top of his sport and getting there fast — fast as in 190 mph, and fast as getting there at 28.
Fast doesn’t always mean easy, though.
Keselowski’s family lost its money and a piece of its soul investing in Brad’s career and future as 2005 seeped into ’06. When he couldn’t secure an outside sponsor, the eponymous third-generation family race team went under with the son they had banked on behind the wheel.
“The lowest point in my life,” his father, Bob, recalled Sunday, attending his first race all season. “Devastating.”
For Brad, too.
“To think I was part of bankrupting my family to try to pursue my own dream is a moment when you feel so selfish and incredibly low as a human being,” he had said this week, the guilt still there, still a part of him. “You don’t think you’ll ever recover.”
He did, and so did the family — Sunday the epitome of that. The proof.
“He pulled us out all by himself,” said his mother, Kay. “He saved us.”
Keselowski has drawn inspiration from a fiery pregame football speech made by ex-Hurricane Ray Lewis of the Ravens on EA Sports’ Madden ’13 video.
“I’ve always been told I’m too small, not big enough, not fast, don’t have what it takes,” shouts Lewis in his evangelical style.
Keselowski says he has watched that a hundred times, and there were echoes of Lewis when the new champ described what this career pinnacle meant to him.
“I’m 6 foot, about 155 pounds, I ain’t a big guy. I’m not the strongest guy. I haven’t always been the fastest guy or the smartest guy or smoothest guy,” he said Sunday. “I’ve heard that all my life. It’s given me the fire to find the way to win.”
Then, an unlikely historical reference:
“Like Winston Churchill,” he warned, “we never, ever, ever give up.”
Penske reeled Keselowski back in by booming, “Did you bring your Tweeter — that’s I wanna know!”
With that, we fittingly end with a Twitter-styled summary of 140 characters:
A massive gust of fresh air is sweeping through NASCAR and it feels good. It feels cool. It feels new. Different. Brad Keselowski. #champion