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Keselowski brings new look to NASCAR winners’ circle

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012

The 2012 NASCAR season is over, and its biggest series has a new champion – Brad Keselowski.

His run to this year’s title has been well documented, but this is the first time since 2006 the Sprint Cup series has a first-time champion.

What kind of champion will the 28-year-old native of Rochester Hills, Mich., be? What does he bring to the table?

Even more important, can Keselowski’s ascension to the sport’s top tier help attract new fans to NASCAR?

Here’s what some of the Cup series’ biggest names had to say to those questions:

Keselowski’s team owner, Roger Penske: “It’s not how much money you put into your race team, it’s all about the people and the human capital, and I guess Brad is right at the top. When he came in and said, ‘Look, I want to help you build a championship team,’ he looked me in the eye and shook my hand, and that’s how we started, and there’s no question that he’s delivered way above what both of us probably thought was possible when you look at the competition and what we have to deal with.

“He’s a great leader on our team. He hasn’t missed a step. He’s galvanized the team from the standpoint of leadership with Paul (Wolfe, crew chief) and the whole team, and I think never does he miss a day coming in the shop, putting his arm around the guys, and that makes a big difference. You can be a big shot, but you’ve got to get down on the ground and work with the guys that are doing all this work day in and day out.”

Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick: “I remember just like yesterday Brad sitting in my office, and he eats, sleeps and drinks wanting to be a race car driver, and he – when he was with the Nationwide team, he was all under the car, all around the car with the guys, and he brings a level of intensity that I see in very few people, just that determined.

“I think he’s matured in a hurry, and he learned how to race, and race 500 miles and race against guys and knows when to race and the gas mileage thing. They figured it out. I guess they were first, weren’t they? They kind of had the gas mileage thing down first. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anybody mature as quickly – not so much mature but learn how to race and accept racing with guys that were champions and looked at as being the best but wanting to beat the best. He deserves it.”

Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon: “I think he’ll do great. His ability to reach out to the social media and the younger crowd, you know, I think that he’s somebody that wants to take it and wants to be that, and because of that, he’ll put a lot of effort into it.

“He’s entertaining. You know, you never know what you’re going to get with Brad. I enjoy or look forward to watching him, and I think this experience, he will just mature to another level because of being in this position and carrying this responsibility. When he sees all that’s involved – every champion that I’ve ever seen win their first one, they always come out of it with a whole new perspective on past champions. It makes you grow up.”

Five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson: “We were teammates for a handful of years. He was in (Dale Earnhardt) Jr.’s car, and when you’re teammates with someone you get to know someone on a different level. Your guard is down and it’s much more friendly than meeting somebody out on the race track door-to-door for the first time.

“We had a good relationship then, and I can’t go without saying congratulations to Brad and the entire team. I’ve known Paul (Wolfe) for a lot of years. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for Brad, and I’m very good friends with Roger (Penske) and happy that he was able to come out with the championship.”

Utter: 704-358-5113; Twitter: @Jim_Utter

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