Brad Keselowski just drinking it in
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Brad Keselowski reeks of beer and champagne that was poured into him and onto him during one of the most colorful championship celebrations you will see in sports.
The buzz he had two hours earlier is wearing off, thanks to a trip to the motor coach for food and hydration between his frontstretch celebration and news conference. He is relaxing now in a back room of the Homestead-Miami Speedway media center, his focus on all the text and Twitter messages that have clogged his cellphone.
"I wonder why Mike Mulhern didn't ask me a question?" NASCAR's newly crowned Sprint Cup champion interjects about a veteran sportswriter who remained silent during the formal portion of the media circus.
It is jokingly suggested this old-school reporter may have been too stunned from the "SportsCenter" interview, probably the first time he or any of us heard an athlete say he had a buzz on live television.
"You guys saw that?" he asks.
The whole sports world saw it. It was raw. It was entertaining.
Many of you agree it was great for NASCAR. Some of you, sadly, have emailed and tweeted that it was an embarrassment and didn't set a good example for your children. Some of you say Keselowski won't be a good representative for the sport.
You're wrong. What Keselowski showed was pure, honest emotion from a driver who'd just accomplished something he spent most of his 28 years dreaming about. That his 155-pound, dehydrated body didn't hold up to the barrage of alcohol that he and fans spontaneously poured into him was a comic side effect that shouldn't become topic for negative conversation.
As driver Parker Kligerman reminded me during Monday night's Truck and Nationwide Series banquet, Keselowski isn't really a drinker.
"Everybody faces their criticism no matter what you do," Keselowski says. "But if you're true to yourself in the long run, those things will work themselves out.
"I had fun and I wanted to show that fun and enjoy it with others. I'm more thrilled that people enjoyed [it] than I am disappointed to questioning my path because someone else didn't like it."
Keselowski is a much-needed representative for NASCAR. As the first champion born in the 1980s, he will help attract the Generation Y fan the sport desperately wants.
He will do nothing more to embarrass the sport than five-time champion Jimmie Johnson did when he fell off the roof of a golf cart and broke his hand while being goofy following his first title in 2006.
Boys will always be boys.
Asked during the formal part of his interviews if being the new face of NASCAR will change him like it has others, Keselowski says, "Well, I don't know. I'm going to meet some cool people. I've always wanted to date a celebrity. I'm just throwing that out there."
He pauses, then adds, "Not a Kardashian."
Later in the back room, he admits there's a celebrity he has in mind. He won't admit who she is, but a little research reveals it's Jennifer Love Hewitt.
"It's pretty well-documented," Keselowski says.
Keselowski then digs deeper, as he does perhaps better than any driver, into how stardom might change him.
"Maybe I could be a little more professional and a little less rough around the edges on some things, but that just comes with time and age," he says. "I'll find that. I'm not too worried.
"But that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice the core of what makes you, the passion of what has driven to me to where I'm at. You don't have to sacrifice those things."
Hopefully, all the rough edges won't go away. They are part of Keselowski's charm, part of what will make fans who have been turned off by the corporate side of the sport appreciate him.
"I would rather be defined by the passion I have for the sport and what I do rather than being rough around the edges," Keselowski says.
That passion is what ultimately will make Keselowski a great representative for the sport.
Whether or not you think he's a good role model, he has the best interest of NASCAR in mind. He's willing to question things that need questioning. He's giving back by developing future stars, such as Ryan Blaney with his Truck team.
"If we please the world at every turn, it's going to be boring," NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton says on Monday as he relaxes outside a posh South Beach hotel. "Brad Keselowski is going to be a great champion. He's going to bring a little different twist to things."
Keselowski brings a uniqueness that, as Pemberton says, "is not cookie cutter by any means."
In race track terms, Keselowski is Bristol and Talladega all rolled up into one.
"Expect the unexpected," he says. "That's my MO, right?"
That might scare some. Keselowski admits he scares owner Roger Penske at times.
"Were you looking at his face when I was talking?" he says with a laugh.
Mark Garrow discusses Danica Patrick getting a divorce, Brad Keselowski getting criticized and Joe Gibbs trying to re-sign Kyle Busch early.
You couldn't help but see awestruck on Penske's face as his driver entered the media center with a magnum bottle of champagne and went off on tangents that nobody knew where they would end.
But scared? Hardly.
"Maybe I am conservative, but I like to have a little fun, too," Penske says. "When you've won the NASCAR championship, you can kind of give him a little wider path, and he's certainly taken it side to side. I think it's all good."
This puts it all in perspective.
"Yeah," Keselowski says of scaring The Captain. "But you know what? I also deliver results. I think he likes that."
Keselowski delivers on and off the track. His postrace celebration gave sponsor Miller Lite more exposure than it could have gotten in a 60-second television commercial that would have cost millions.
The way he works social media, particularly Twitter, draws in the most casual fan. As one of my friends who doesn't follow NASCAR said after the race, "This Keselowski kid is pretty cool."
NASCAR needs a cool factor back in the sport.
"He's entertaining," says Jeff Gordon, a polished four-time champion. "You never know what you're going to get with Brad. This experience, he will just mature to a whole other level because of being in this position and carrying this responsibility."
Keselowski already is mature beyond his years. He doesn't plan to buy jets and boats with the millions he earned this season. He's going to "pay some bills," helping out his family that almost went bankrupt to keep him in racing.
"Because that's the kind of guy I am," he says. "I'm fiscally responsible."
OK, so Keselowski does have a flamboyant side. He wants to buy a tank and chase his neighbor, Dale Earnhardt Jr., around in the woods with it if he can talk him into getting one too.
But if Keselowski feels pressure to represent the sport, he's not showing it.
"We all have the opportunity to reshape what's around us," he says. "The grass is as green in this sport as we make it, and I'm going to try my best to continue to water it every day.
"There shouldn't be any pressure to water the f------ lawn. Just do it. The pressure is if you don't know how, but it's pretty damn simple."
So Keselowski drops an f-bomb every now and then. That doesn't make him any less of a role model. And neither should his postrace victory buzz at Homestead.
Getting a buzz actually wasn't how he planned to celebrate at all.
"I wanted to get out of the car with the American flag and run around [and] wave it," Keselowski says. "My foot was too sore. I couldn't do that."
That's the left foot he broke in a crash during a test last season. That's the pain he ignored a few days later to win at Pocono because he has too much passion for his job, for the sport, to let an injury keep him out of the car.
Those are the images of Keselowski people need to remember when they're thinking about role models.
"He brings a level of intensity that I see in very few people, just that determined," says Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, who lost Keselowski to Penske three years ago because he didn't have an open Cup ride.
That intensity comes out on the track, and as we saw on Sunday it also comes out in his celebrations.
"Vegas will be big," Pemberton says of next week's champion's celebration in Las Vegas.
Keselowski looks up from his cellphone as he's asked how he plans -- a figure of speech, mind you -- to blow up Vegas.
"Do they have any buildings that need to be torn down that we literally could blow up?" he says. "That would be a great NASCAR PR stunt. I just planted a seed, didn't I?
"Nobody has ever thought of that one, have they? Like the Stardust? Remember when that got blown up?"
Expect the unexpected.
Sunday night's celebration that left Keselowski smelling like a bar was a sample of that. But that celebration doesn't define him.
He was caught up in the moment just as those screaming for him to "drink, drink, drink" were.
"People love beer," Keselowski says. "I can be a big ass, and at the end of the day people still love beer."
Keselowski continues to sift through messages. The alcohol buzz continues to subside.
But the buzz Keselowski has brought to NASCAR is just beginning.
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