Brian Keselowski humbled but hopeful for 2013 Daytona 500

Todd Warshaw

Brian Keselowski insists that he isn’t bitter about his brother, Brad’s success, in capturing the Sprint Cup Series championship in 2012. But he does think that a stroke of luck here-or-there could have made a difference between stardom and scraping the bottom of the barrel just to attempt the Daytona 500 in February.

There’s not a doubt in Keselowski’s mind that he has the talent needed to make it in the Sprint Cup Series. But like so many that came before him, Brian was bit by the sponsorship plague that has ended so many once promising careers.

Keselowski promised himself that if he hadn’t made it by time he turned 30-years-old, he would slow down and find a real job. While he can’t completely eliminate the driving bug, now was the time for the suddenly 31-year-old to do something else.

After competing in just two ARCA Racing Series events last season, the Richard Petty Driving Experience reached out to Brian about working at their Charlotte headquarters. After a brief trial run during the summer, the Driving Experience offered him a full-time job as chief driving instructor and head safety mechanic of its east branch.

While not the job he grew up wanting, this was a good fit and very much a compromise. At the Richard Petty Driving Experience, Keselowski gets to build and update the fleet of cars; something he remarks is similar to what he does at his personal shop with his own cars. He still gets to travel to most of the races too.

“I’ll be at a lot of different places for the Driving Experience,” Keselowski said. “I’ll be at Vegas early in the season, where we’re going to take the fans in, and drive them around several of the local short tracks. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

His new occupation gives him the opportunity to mingle with the fans and get to know them better, a luxury he was rarely provided when he was driving full-time. One of the most common questions he has fielded from fans is why he can’t just ask his superstar brother for help or money to run additional races.

Perhaps it’s pride or just proper business etiquette but Brian Keselowski just wants to make it on his own. When he first set out to race full-time, he received just a single engine from his father, Bob, and purchased his own truck, trailer and shop. For Keselowski, it’s just a matter of doing things the “right way.”

“It’s not the worst thing,” Keselowski said. “You learn a lot about yourself when you do it this way. I feel like if I can’t make it on my own then I shouldn’t be able to do it at all. It’s all about getting the right opportunity and being able to take advantage of it once you’re presented with it. I want to do this right way – go out there and compete, not start and park.

“I want to go out there and race.”

What many people forget is that Brian Keselowski was originally selected for the Nationwide Series ride at Keith Coleman Racing that later went to Brad when it was learned that Brian had not completed the necessary NASCAR speedway license tests. Brad had and that was opportunity that jump-started Brad’s career while Brian’s remained in obscurity.

“I don’t fault Brad for that either,” Keselowski said. “That’s the story for a lot of young guys in this sport. It comes down to having the right opportunity for the right team with the right stuff. There’s definitely more talented drivers than there are cars and not everyone makes it.”

In fact, Brian couldn't be more proud of his brother. For 60 years, the Keselowski family has been a steady constant in the NASCAR garage. Winning races, and ultimately a championship, is a matter of pride for the Keselowski family. Regardless of which one of the brothers was able to accomplish the feat, Brian is proud that the family name stands alongside some of the greatest in NASCAR.

“It was a big deal for our family,” Brian says. “How could it not be, right? My grandfather started racing in the 1960s in ARCA and the Cup Series. Dad started after Granddad came back from Vietnam so we’ve been in this for a long time. While we don’t have the same lineage as the Petty or Earnhardt name, we’ve been in this for a long time.

“I’m so excited for Brad winning his first championship with Penske Racing and that showed what our family is all about.”

In stark contrast to Brad, Brian is the more-accurate embodiment of what it means to be a stock-car driver in the current era. He’ll likely never match his brother’s accomplishments and he knows it too.

And at this stage of his career, Keselowski is not likely to receive a phone call from Roger Penske or Jack Roush either. But his dream is no different today than it was when he and Brad were running around their dad's shop nearly 20 years ago -- to someday compete in the Sprint Cup Series.

The elder Keselowski has already achieved that dream. He made the field of 43 for the 2011 Daytona 500 in a thrilling fashion, where after posting the slowest qualifying time of all 48 teams, he dramatically raced his way into the field via the Gatorade Duel. He started 12th in the Daytona 500 but crashed out in the first major accident of the day.

After taking most of 2012 off, he’s hoping to start 2013 with a major declaration. He wants to again make the Daytona 500. And this time, he aims to finish it.

“We’re trying really hard to make it to Daytona because that’s a race we really have a shot at,” Keselowski said. “I really respect the competition at this level but we’ve learned that the qualifying races really play to our advantage. We may not be able to make this race if we had to qualify straight up. We just don’t have the experience or the crew and horsepower – they’ll outqualify us every time. But the qualifying race gives us a real shot.”

Brian Keselowski may not be able to compete for a Sprint Cup Series championship but making the field of the Daytona 500 means everything to him. And once you make the field in Daytona, anything can happen -- perhaps even dreams coming true.

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