- Ryan McGee, ESPN Senior Writer
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I DIDN'T FEEL much stress the week before the Homestead race, the night before the race, not even that morning or during the first couple of hours of the race. But in the second half, when the yellow flags started coming and the strategy showed up and Jimmie was restarting up at the front while we were
kind of back in the pack, I'm listening to [crew chief] Paul [Wolfe] and [team owner] Roger [Penske] and spotter Joey Meier on the radio, and their voices didn't sound confident, I can tell you that. That's the first time I was kind of like, Oh s--, we better make the right moves here.
When I crossed the finish line, I thought about my family and all those years on all those short tracks. My dad was a racer. Then my family went broke funding my racing. And I think about all those people at Penske Racing; they'd won 15 Indy 500s and championships in every racing series there is, but they always came up short in NASCAR. I used to be the guy who wanted to put the "I" in team, but now what motivates me is making all of their work and frustration pay off.
The way the sport used to work is that you drove junk for years, and the big guys would watch. If you were fast driving in that crap, they would give you a shot in the good stuff. That's how everyone from David Pearson to Dale Earnhardt had to do it. That's not really the case anymore. So you know what I feel like? I feel like Indiana Jones when he reaches under that big stone door and snatches his hat out just before it slams shut behind him. Like I'm the last guy to squeeze through there before you can't take that path anymore, forever.
But maybe I'm giving hope to other racers out there working their butts off. Maybe they can look at me and think: Okay, a short-track guy can still do this without a fat wallet. He can still do it the old-fashioned way.
I think there are a lot more people out there who can relate to someone who just made his dreams come true than can relate to someone trying to play it cool, being emotionless. Expect the unexpected -- that's my MO, right? I can promise you this: It won't be a one-off deal. Once you get a taste of this, you aren't satisfied. You're hungrier. And I was pretty damn hungry to start with.
In ESPN The Magazine, Ryan McGee interviews 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski.