TALLADEGA — There Brad Keselowski was, sitting at a dais in the Talladega Superspeedway media center late Friday afternoon in front of a checkered flag of logos.
Above Keselowski was the sign, in two-foot-high letters, “THIS IS TALLADEGA.” It was the perfect banner headline to loom over this Keselowski snapshot. Because Keselowski is pretty much Talladega these days.
Think about it. Tough. Pulls no punches. A sense of history. Bold. Fast. A perfect touch of arrogance. Love-hate relationship.
Doesn’t that describe Talladega Superspeedway?
Doesn’t that describe so many racers who have excelled on this old soybean farm? Dale Earnhardt, both Senior and Earnhardt 2.0. Cale Yarborough. Bobby Allison.
And Bradley Aaron Keselowski, the all-time winningest active driver at the speedway, with five victories.
But Keselowski went all “aw-shucks” on us, sitting there behind the mike.
“Well, maybe I have just been lucky five times,” he said.
Yeah, like Earnhardt Sr. was lucky 10 times to be the all-time leader, or Junior and Jeff Gordon got lucky six times apiece.
“I think there is a luck factor to Talladega that will always be there and there is a skill factor that seems to always be a moving target with different tactics and techniques based on the rules, regulations and competitors,” Keselowski continued. “What it took to win here the first time is certainly not what it will take to win here this weekend. You have to adapt to that and that is a big challenge when you have something you are successful with.”
There may be others to consider, but it’s hard to argue that Keselowski isn’t the best restrictor plate racer out there. Partly because Talladega doesn’t intimidate him. Partly because he’s driving a Ford, which seems to have an aero and a power advantage in restrictor plate races.
“We come here with pretty strong cars which always make your job a little bit easier,” Keselowski said.
(Here, a quick aside and tribute: Fords are powered by Roush Yates Engines. The foundation for the company was a Talladega-tough wizard named Robert Yates, a well-deserving NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee this past January, only a few months after his death. Thirty-nine years ago next week, another Talladega-tough youngster named Davey Allison won his first Cup race at this speedway — the first Cup win for Robert Yates Racing.)
Keselowski, 34, has won at Talladega for two different teams. He was a virtual unknown in 2009, driving for James Finch. Many shrugged him off as another of those many Talladega one-hit wonders, who took a right turn to oblivion after steering out of Victory Lane.
“That was a huge, huge win for me. I think that first win put me in position to be with Penske (for which he has four wins),” Keselowski said. “I don’t know if I would have been with Penske without that. That was huge for me. It opened up a lot of doors.
“I was able to get through them in a time period when they weren’t really handing out quality rides like they were candy,” he continued, channeling his inner geezer. “It opened up a door for me to earn it. I am glad to be here and I don’t know if I would be here if it wasn’t for that first win.”
You may remember that first victory. Keselowski was door-to-door with Carl Edwards in the trioval. They collided and Edwards went into the fence. Keselowski went to the finish line.
Tough move. No punches pulled. Bold. Fast.
That is Talladega.
Mark McCarter is a contributor to The Anniston Star. He can be reached at email@example.com