It would be easy for Brad Keselowski to relax and enjoy the last seven Nationwide Series races of the season.
Keselowski has a near-insurmountable 320-point lead on Carl Edwards for the championship, but he won’t be content with that. Not with Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Chevrolet leading Keselowski’s No. 22 Penske Dodge by 134 points in the owner standings with seven races to go.
“We don’t want to split the title, we want to win the whole thing,” said Keselowski, who has four Nationwide wins going into the Kansas Lottery 300 at 2:30 p.m. CDT on Saturday at Kansas Speedway.
“Everybody looks at the driver’s side, and it’s pretty good right now, but we’ve got to keep it up. We’ve got to win races and put the heat on the 18 Nationwide team.”
Not only that, but with Sprint Cup teammate Kurt Busch fourth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, it’s possible that Penske Racing — which has never won a NASCAR championship at any level — could become the first team to win both the Cup and Nationwide series in the same year.
“And the IndyCar series, too,” Keselowski said, referring to Penske driver Will Power’s leading Dario Franchitti by 12 points going into Saturday night’s IndyCar finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “The quest to win three championships for Roger Penske in one year would be awesome, a true Triple Crown.”
Penske trails Joe Gibbs in the owner’s points because Kyle Busch has won a single-season record 11 Nationwide races in 23 starts, with Brad Coleman contributing two top 10s in five starts in Busch’s absence.
Keselowski, like Busch, is a full-time Sprint Cup driver, but he has started all 28 Nationwide races and will succeed Busch as the Nationwide champion after finishing third in the Series the last two years. Busch and Edwards finished 1-2 in 2009 and Cup regulars Bowyer and Edwards ran 1-2 in 2008.
“There are a lot different ways to look at it,” said Keselowski, 26. “There are those who say, ‘Well you finished third the last two years, and weren’t able to beat Clint, Carl and Kyle.’ Well, they’re good competitors.
“There are those who look at this year, and say, ‘Well, now that you’re running Cup, you’re cherry-picking it. You’ve got to look at it somewhere in between. I never felt any resentment toward Kyle and Clint when they won it, and hopefully nobody feels any toward me this year, because it’s a hard challenge. That’s what’s going to make it mean so much after finishing third the last few y ears.
Keselowski, who came up driving for a modestly funded, family-owned NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team, appreciates how far he has come.
“It’s the realization of a dream to be a NASCAR racer and to be a winner, not just for me, but for my team,” he said. “There’s a dream I’ve always had, creating a team in my own likeness, and having someone like Roger, who has the resources, and essentially that’s what the 22 Nationwide team is.”
In addition to his success on the track, the baby-faced Keselowski has been voted by fans as the Nationwide Series’ Most Popular Driver in 2008 and 2009.
“It’s something that’s really cool and something I’m proud of,” Keselowski said. “The fans are what fuel you on your rough days. They inspire you and motivate you. It’s great to win that award. Those trophies are the ones that are in my house, because they’re that special.”
It’s doubtful Keselowski would be voted the most popular driver in the garages, after some well-publicized incidents this year with Edwards and Busch.
“Somebody said that I’m polarizing, which means either love ‘em or hate ‘em, and it’s a good thing they don’t vote for least-popular guy, because I might win that, too,” said Keselowski, known for his aggressive driving.
“It’s all in good spirit. When it comes to the competition, nothing has ever been handed to me, so the way I’ve gotten to where I’ve been is by really digging and scratching and clawin’. I’m sure there’s some people who don’t appreciate that, but without it, I wouldn’t be where I’m at.
“So I don’t offer any apologies for it.”
Don’t expect Keselowski to mellow as he gets older.
“I think it’s a difference in philosophy, the way I approach the sport,” said Keselowski, who has one career Cup win, at Talladega in 2009. “I race the way, if I was watching, I would appreciate … somebody who drives 100 percent every lap, who’s smart, calculating, who will rough somebody up a little bit in good spirit, but not wreck ‘em . . . someone who doesn’t take anything from anyone but doesn’t wreck their competition unless they cause it themselves.
“I race in that manner and believe in that code, but that’s not a consistent code throughout the garage.”