Keselowski helps older brother make Daytona 500
Until his little brother got involved.
Brad Keselowski pushed his brother to a fifth-place finish Thursday in the second of two qualifying races for the upcoming Daytona 500. It set off an emotional family celebration on pit road and left everyone in the garage area talking about the feel-good story of Speedweeks.
“Things like that are what our sport’s about,” fellow driver Jeff Burton said. “Our sport’s about passion, it’s about desire, it’s about staying up ’til 4 in the morning worrying about what’s going to happen.”
Brian had plenty of cause for concern.
Driving a 5-year-old car he put together with his father, Bob, the 1989 ARCA champion, Keselowski struggled to find enough speed all week at Daytona. And when the green flag dropped Thursday, he wasn’t sure anyone would want to help him out in the 150-mile sprint.
Brad stepped in, doing something more suitable from a big brother. He lined up behind Brian’s unsponsored No. 92 Dodge and pushed him through the field, passing Sprint Cup stars Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Jamie McMurray along the way.
In the final few laps, the Keselowskis were running right up there with the leaders. Brian crossed the finish line less than a second behind Burton, who won the race.
“It’s just an awesome feeling,” Brad said. “You can’t always do something for your family, but when you can, you try to. I was able to do something for him.”
Brian started crying as he stopped on pit road, then got a hug from his brother. Their mom and dad showed up a few minutes later to join in the frivolity.
“That was awesome,” Michael Waltrip said. “I loved seeing that. Brad was committed and he made it work out. I don’t know about you, but I thought that was a really cool story.”
Added Joe Nemechek: “One of those Cinderella stories.”
Brian’s unexpected run gives the “Great American Race” three sets of brothers. Kurt and Kyle Busch, and Terry and Bobby Labonte already qualified for the 43-car field.
The Keselowski brothers haven’t always been close.
Brian, two years older than Brad, acknowledged they had an up-and-down relationship growing up. Brad always wanted to tag along, and Brian never wanted to be his baby sitter. Brian also said he was jealous when his brother landed a full-time ride in the Nationwide Series, which led to his coveted Sprint Cup job with Penske Racing.
“I feel like if roles could have been reversed, there’s a possibility I could be in the same position he’s in now,” Brian said. “There’s no guarantees. I would have liked the chance. There’s always a little bit of jealousy. Then you have to say, ‘What if it wouldn’t have worked?’ We’d both be sitting home. It could go either way. We made our first Daytona 500, so I guess it’s not all a bad thing.”
Not at all.
Even if Brian finishes last in Sunday’s season-opening race, he’ll earn more than $250,000—a huge payday for a team on a shoestring budget.
“If there’s anybody that can stretch money, that’s us,” Brian said. “My dad has been doing that for years. That’s how we’ve always had to race. Until we got a little bit of decent sponsorship in the truck, the ARCA side there, man, we struggled. That’s all we’ve ever done really since the ‘60s.
“It means I can pay my bills off finally. It’s been a really rough winter, I’m telling you. … I’m really, really, really glad that that happened. I can look everybody in the eye again and say, ‘Thank God this worked.’ I told everybody this is going to work, just hold on, please help, and they did.”
Earning a spot in his first career Cup race—the Daytona 500, no less—is only half the battle. Brian must now put together a pit crew in time for Sunday’s race. He came to Daytona with only his father, then asked his uncle to join them this week.
That two-man team won’t be enough on race day.
“I’ve got some recruiting to do,” he smiled.
Not the worst problem he’s ever faced.