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LAS VEGAS -- It's sometime after midnight outside a corner bar in the Las Vegas Wynn and new Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski is decked out in a sport coat, designer jeans and classic boots.
He looks cool.
Almost fit for GQ.
"Who dressed you?" asked Kevin Harvick, seemingly stunned that the Penske Racing driver looked so stylish.
Keselowski admitted that he hired a stylist to help out with his Las Vegas attire, giving her a list of events he had to attend and telling her to match his clothes to the occasion.
"I'm a guy," he said. "I don't know clothes. Girls know clothes."
|Brad Keselowski caught flak from several Chase drivers for wearing an untucked shirt and jeans to the 2011 Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon.|
That was painfully obvious a year ago as Keselowski arrived at the Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon wearing faded blue jeans and an untucked shirt that looked as if it had been slept in while the rest of the Chase class wore suits. It was even more obvious later in the night as he strolled the floors of the Wynn wearing a white T-shirt and jeans.
Few probably thought this young driver who was rough around the edges on the track and in the fashion department would be back a year later as the champion.
And look like one too.
Almost everywhere the 28-year-old from Michigan has gone this week he has worn a sport coat or suit, looking as if he stepped out of a fashion magazine. He'll cap off the week in a tuxedo for Friday's banquet.
Keselowski looks so natty that team owner Roger Penske said "he must be the head of Hugo Boss by now."
An informal survey of fellow Chase drivers rated his new style as a 9 compared to a zero a year ago. He has improved that much or more on the track too, which is why he's on the main stage for the banquet.
Penske says it's part of the maturing process, although the consumption of his primary sponsor -- Miller Lite -- may have led him to backslide once or twice during the week.
The most notable moment came when Clint Bowyer caught Keselowski urinating in the corner of a tent on the Las Vegas Strip just before drivers made the traditional victory lap. That came up a time or two during an R-rated "After the Lap" session at Planet Hollywood.
"Clint took a nice picture of me showing how much more mature I am," Keselowski said.
He tweeted it too.
This is what NASCAR wants and needs, though, a driver not afraid to show his personality.
That's Keselowski. After ESPN's Jamie Little, who hosted the "After the Lap" event, reminded the crowd that their champion was feeling pretty good, Keselowski interjected, "The more drinking we do, the more fun you have."
We saw that in Keselowski's "SportsCenter" interview after he won the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he chugged from a giant pilsner beer glass and said he had a buzz on live television.
It went viral.
It makes you wonder whether anything Keselowski says or does for his speech on Friday can live up to that. He already has said it will be unscripted, something seldom seen from drivers at these events.
So when I asked him if he felt pressure to perform at the banquet the way he did in the Chase, Keselowski responded, "How many more times am I going to get that [about pressure]?"
"You know, Christmas is coming next week. Do you feel the pressure to buy the right gift? New Year's is up. Do you feel the pressure to change your life with a proper New Year's resolution?" he said. "How many pressure questions can you guys come up with?"
Good point. But there are expectations, because Keselowski has set the bar so high.
"I don't have any expectations," Keselowski said. "My expectations are to have fun and be a champion. I haven't thought of, Wow, I've got to top something else that I've done. Those moments come naturally. If it's great, it's great. If it's not, it's not."
He's right. Another reason he'll be the kind of champion NASCAR wants and needs. He doesn't force things. What you see is what you get.
And when he says expect the unexpected, he means it.
"People ask what kind of champion he will be," Denny Hamlin said. "I say refreshing, because he's so different."
And what Keselowski wears shouldn't make a difference. Most of the drivers outside of Jeff Gordon need somebody to tell them how to dress. Tony Stewart has his clothes for different functions bagged and labeled so all he has to do is put them on.
"I have absolutely zero fashion sense," he said. "I've never picked out a suit or tie in my life."
Hamlin never had a pair of designer jeans until a few years ago. He still gets help with wardrobe decisions.
But it is a little worrisome to him that he and Keselowski now shop at some of the same clothing stores back home in North Carolina.
"Brad obviously was the worst dressed last year by a long ways," Hamlin said. "We don't get to do this a whole lot."
Sports writers don't either, to be honest. But on Friday I'll be decked in a tuxedo along with everyone else.
"You have a wife," Keselowski said to me as I joined in Harvick's fashion commentary. "You have somebody to dress you. I don't."
Keselowski then cracked, "Having a wife is a lot more expensive than having somebody dress you."
As Stewart said later, "Another good point."
And the real point is: Don't judge Keselowski or any of these characters by the way they dress. Judge them by what they do on the track and by the way they represent the sport.
"It's kind of weird how things work out," said Hamlin, recalling Keselowski at the Myers Brothers event a year ago. "Brad just matured on the racetrack more than anyone I've seen in a long time."
He has grown in the fashion world as well.