By RICK MINTER / Universal Uclick
Part of the fun of following NASCAR – or any sport – is trying to figure out who will be the next superstar.
Three years ago at Talladega Superspeedway, after Brad Keselowski held his ground on the final lap and got his first career Sprint Cup victory (while Carl Edwards, after contact between the two of them, flew into the catchfence), many speculated that Keselowski was destined for stardom. Others figured he might be like Bobby Hillin Jr., Phil Parsons, Ron Bouchard, Dick Brooks or Lennie Pond – drivers who got a win at Talladega then never won anywhere else.
But since then, Keselowski has won four more times, earned a Chase berth in 2011 and established himself as one of the sport’s top stars.
On Sunday, in the Aaron’s 499, he pulled off a move that isn’t supposed to work, to motor away from his drafting partner Kyle Busch on the final lap and cruise to his sixth career victory.
On a green-white-checkered run to the finish, Keselowski proved adept at hooking up in a two-car tandem, working with Kyle Busch to motor away from the Roush Fenway Racing duo of Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, who had difficulty getting hooked up bumper to bumper and quickly found themselves racing for third place, at best.
Then Keselowski showed a sign of true greatness, when he made a daring move in Turn Three on the final lap and broke away from Busch, a maneuver that allowed him to motor away unchallenged to the finish line.
When Keselowski went high, then low, it broke the draft and more importantly debunked the prevailing school of thought that the second-place driver had the advantage on the final lap at Talladega.
Keselowski said he’d been waiting a long time to try that move.
“I had this whole plan if I ever got in that situation where I was leading,” he said. “I thought about it and thought about it, dreamed about what to do, and sure enough, going into [Turn] Three, it was just me and Kyle [Busch], and I knew the move I wanted to pull.
“It worked because the guy running second should have the advantage, but I had this move all worked up in my mind.
“Now everybody has seen it and they know it, but I’m glad I was able to get a win with it … It wasn’t easy to convince myself to do that, but it was the right move. I’m glad it worked.”
An obviously disappointed Busch said he wasn’t sure how Keselowski got away at the end and he wasn’t sure if it was a planned maneuver or not.
“If he did [plan it] it was pretty smart,” Busch said.
Keselowski’s victory, his second of the season, appears to put him in good position to take a spot in the Chase, which begins after the 26-race regular season. And it further establishes him as one of the sport’s elite drivers.
Busch and Kenseth both agreed with that when queried after the race.
“He’s no dummy, that’s for sure,” Busch said. “He’s got good plate-racing skills. I think he’s got good short track, mile-and-a-half skills, too.
“Brad should be a title contender each and every year.”
Kenseth, who blamed himself for not doing a better job at managing the tandem at the end at Talladega, said that many not directly involved in the sport may not realize how dedicated Keselowski is to his job.
“That’s one thing people don’t notice or give him credit for – he works really hard,” Kenseth said. “I think that’s a lot of reason for his success.”