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Friday, March 2, 2012
Brad Keselowski strikes Twitter gold

By Terry Blount
ESPN.com

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- Brad Keselowski got a message on his cellphone during his interview session Friday at Phoenix International Raceway, the same cellphone that caused a Twitter and NASCAR sensation Monday night.

No word on whether Friday's message came from one of his 225,000 Twitter followers, 160,000 of which came onboard since his controversial tweets during the red flag in the Daytona 500.

In a matter of minutes, Keselowski became a Twitter legend and NASCAR revolutionary.

"I'm glad people enjoyed it," Keselowski said. "I was amazed it got so much attention. I felt bad for Matt [Kenseth]. He won the biggest race of the year and I didn't mean to take any attention away from him.

Brady Keselowski
Brad Keselowski started carrying a phone in his race car after he was airlifted to a hospital and unable to call his mother following a 2007 crash in Fontana, Calif.

"But it's great for the sport to reach out to nontraditional fans. It's good for everybody. It's amazing how loud your voice can be in this sport. You have moments where you think nobody's listening. Then you do something like that and see, 'Whoa, everybody is listening.' "

Keselowski was in the right place at the right time -- a first-ever prime-time show (thanks to two days of rain at Daytona Beach) for NASCAR's premier event.

As unusual as that was, it was nothing compared to the backstretch ball of fire that occurred when Juan Pablo Montoya's car collided with a jet-dryer truck.

The wall of flames brought the red flag and gave Keselowski a window of opportunity to become a social-media star, since he just happened to have his cellphone in the car.

Keselowski tweeted photos of the fire, which immediately caused Twitter mania.

"Obviously, my generation is obsessed with technology and access, so that was a chance to use both," Keselowski said. "And it being in prime time probably helped a lot, too. The problem is it opened up a Pandora's box for the sport."

Drivers have placed unusual things inside the car with them since the early days of NASCAR. David Pearson had a cigarette lighter placed in his car so he could smoke during caution laps. Heck, Tim Flock had a live monkey is his car a few times.

But this is a little different.

"You could make an argument that a smartphone is a mini-computer," Keselowski said. "But it's not like I had it plugged into anything.

"I don't know how you could use it to cheat, quite frankly. I'm sure there are some smart people that would try to think of one. But the ability to give access to the fans is more than worth any of those small ramifications."

NASCAR officials agree (for now), saying Keselowski did nothing wrong and giving drivers the green flag to put cellphones in the car. Not everyone agrees with that decision.

"I don't know," Denny Hamlin said Friday. "Where does it end? Is some guy going to text or tweet during a caution then look up and run into the car in front of him? When I'm on the track, I'm just thinking about winning the race, not social media. But people see the importance of things differently."

Jeff Gordon said he's looking for a few more advancements.

"I'm waiting until they can put a chip in my brain," Gordon said. "Then I can just blink and it takes a picture to tweet from Victory Lane."

Funny, but NASCAR PR guru Kerry Tharp one-upped him: "We are finalizing that right now in the [NASCAR] R&D Center."

As for cellphones in the car, Kevin Harvick has an idea of his own.

"I've already looked up the miles-per-hour app," he said. "That could be good going down pit road [cars don't have speedometers]. So I'm going to see how fast I can get this outlawed."

The phone wasn't there for a red flag at Daytona and a jet-dryer explosion. I don't have that much foresight. You can't plan moments like that.

-- Brad Keselowski

He was joking, I think, but there are real concerns. Keselowski has no intention of ever using his phone while his tires are rolling. But just having it in the car could lead some young fans to think it's OK to text or tweet while they are driving, already a growing problem on the highways across America.

No one wants that, including Keselowski. He told a long story Friday about why he has his cellphone in the race car, which had nothing to do with social media. Originally, it was all about calling his mom.

He crashed in a 2007 Nationwide Series race at Fontana and was airlifted by helicopter to a Los Angeles hospital. He didn't have his cellphone and couldn't contact his mother, Kay, for hours.

"That's why I keep the phone with me now," he said. "I had the team put a little pocket for it in the car. It has a practical purpose."

The Daytona oddity was just a bonus -- a 160,000 Twitter bonus.

"The phone wasn't there for a red flag at Daytona and a jet-dryer explosion," Keselowski said. "I don't have that much foresight. You can't plan moments like that. They just happen."

And Keselowski believes it happened for the better.

"I'm a fan of the sport, too," he said, "And I'm part of that important 18-to-49 [age] demographic. So I find myself asking, 'What would I want to see?' That's what I want to try to show as an athlete/entertainer, whatever you want to call me. I was tweeting things that night that I would want to see. I didn't think about it any harder than that."

Keselowski may start a new trend -- fans hoping for a red flag so Brad K. can tweet.

What the heck, it could be worse. He could light up a cigarette with a monkey in the car.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He is the author of "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks." He can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.