|ESPN.com: Sprint Cup||[Print without images]|
|Carl Edwards had a bird's-eye view of Brad Keselowski winning the spring Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in 2009.|
“What Keselowski didn't know, but learned later, was that Martin had told Hendrick the week before he wanted to return for not just one season, but two. "So I guess in the back of my head after winning Talladega I had hoped that would push me over the edge," Keselowski said. Instead, it pushed him in another direction, to another owner and manufacturer. As much as Keselowski wanted to stay with HMS, he couldn't see himself taking a deal similar to the one Hendrick recently gave Kasey Kahne. He couldn't see himself starting over one year with an interim team waiting for Martin's seat to come open and then starting over again, as Kahne apparently will do in 2011 and 2012. Winning the way he did also pushed Keselowski into the spotlight of controversy. From that moment on any aggressive move he made was scrutinized. "That was the beginning of it, without a doubt," Keselowski said. "It labeled me as a guy that was a take-no-prisoners, aggressive driver. I don't think that was the case, but it gave me that perception." OK, maybe it just strengthened the perception. As Newman said, "He was an aggressive driver before then." After several run-ins with Denny Hamlin and Edwards late in the 2009 Nationwide season, things finally came to a head earlier this year at Atlanta. Heading to the closing laps, Edwards, more than 100 laps down, sent Keselowski's car into an airborne spin that was almost as scary as the one at Talladega. That ignited more questions about cars lifting off and sparked more debate about Keselowski as a driver. But Keselowski didn't change. If anything, because he was a victim and not the aggressor this time, opinions changed about him. Not all for the good, but they changed nevertheless. "I've achieved a level of respect, not necessarily respected in people believing what I'm doing is the right thing, but more so a level of respect that people know that if they run me the wrong way there's going to be trouble," said Keselowski, who is 25th in the Cup standings and second in Nationwide. "Some would not call that respect. Some would call that intimidation. "I don't really feel I'm to that point of intimidation, but I rarely get messed with these days. People race me hard, which I'm OK with and always have been OK with. But I don't have to worry about my competitors trying to push me around anymore, which is pretty cool." Edwards, who had a heart-to-heart with Keselowski and NASCAR after the Atlanta incident, seemingly has grown comfortable with his rival. He even seems open to teaming up with Keselowski at Talladega should another opportunity arise like last season. "That was just wild," Edwards said as he recalled the finish. "[I] was very close to winning my first race at a superspeedway, and I learned a lot from it. I hope going back that I can find somebody to work with those last couple laps, whether it's Brad or somebody else. "It would be nice to be in that position again and have another chance to do that, and I think we will, eventually. But that was a really dramatic finish." It was so dramatic that it sparked changes to the sport, but one thing apparently never will change. Keselowski. And that's a good thing in an era when so many drivers conform to what's expected of them. "I'd do the same thing again," Keselowski reiterated. "Trust me in what I say: without hesitation."
People race me hard, which I'm OK with and always have been OK with. But I don't have to worry about my competitors trying to push me around anymore, which is pretty cool.” -- Brad Keselowski
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.