Keselowski’s title great for NASCAR

As I try to wrap my head around the fact that Brad Keselowski is the NASCAR Sprint Cup series champion in just his third full season, what surprises me most is the fact the 28-year-old from Michigan very nearly didn’t even get a chance to run at his sports highest level.
Back in 2007, Keselowski’s Nationwide Series ride had shut down due to a lack of sponsorship dollars halfway through the season, which happened almost a year after his family’s Truck Series team closed up shop.
However, thanks to an impressive one-off ride in a truck race in Memphis in July of that year (which he nearly won), Keselowski earned a full-time ride in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Nationwide Series machine for the rest of the season.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
In a sport of increasingly vanilla personalities, Keselowski is a breath of fresh air as he’s one of a scant few who tells it like is when it comes to his fellow drivers, the media, and his sport’s sanctioning body.
Plus, the guy knows how to have fun, which was easily seen during his post-championship interviews on Speed Channel and ESPN on Sunday, where he clearly was intoxicated.
But perhaps the biggest thing about Keselowski’s title triumph, which may affect NASCAR in the long run, is the fact that he is a fresh face who actually was developed properly along the way.
For every Keselowski or Jimmie Johnson, there is a driver who is brought up too soon and doesn’t live up to the hype, such as Casey Atwood a few years ago and arguably Joey Logano at the moment (though he will be teaming up with Keselowski at Penske Racing in 2013).
As well, Keselowski was one of those rare drivers these days who was given a chance to develop his talents in the lower levels for a couple of seasons without having his ride taken away by a Cup driver who has sponsorship dollars with him.
Time and time again, drivers who have the talent, such as Fort Frances native Steve Arpin, aren’t given that proper opportunity to showcase their skills for a full year in NASCAR, which frustrates me to no end.
Will Keselowski’s success prove to those team owners that they should allow their young drivers to get used to racing against tougher competition before pulling the trigger and letting them go? Probably not.
But I really do think there is a chance that another youth movement in the Sprint Cup series may soon begin.
Nearly a decade ago, the sport received a charge with a number of talented young drivers, such as future champions in Johnson, Kurt Busch, and Matt Kenseth, along with multi-time race winners Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick.
However, the last few years hasn’t seen a whole lot of new drivers other than Keselowski and Kyle Busch making an immediate impact from the development ranks.
In fact, the newcomers who have gotten the most press have been former Formula One winner Juan Pablo Montoya and Indy Car driver Danica Patrick.
But as preparations for the 2013 season are set to begin, the Sprint Cup series actually will welcome its first legit rookie-of-the-year candidate in four years, as two-time Nationwide Series champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will run full-time for Roush Fenway Racing at the age of 25.
In addition to him, drivers such as 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, Camping World Truck Series champion James Buescher, brothers Austin and Ty Dillon, and all-around racing prodigy Kyle Larson all have been mentioned as earning seats in the Cup series in the future.
Sometimes, a change from the status quo is needed to shake up anything that is growing stagnant, which many have accused NASCAR of being in the past few seasons when compared to its peak in popularity during the late 1990s.
So if someone like Keselowski is the person that will help to move things back into the right direction, I’m all for it.