Brad Keselowski opened last season with the first tweet of a picture from inside a NASCAR race car and ended it as Sprint Cup Series champion. On the way, he established himself as the sport’s first unofficial social media ambassador and a new breed of NASCAR champion.
Keselowski believes the moment was so well-received because of the spontaneity of the tweet – he says that he never planned to snap the picture. After all, who could have foreseen a two-hour delay as a result of a jet dryer explosion?
“When that moment happened at Daytona, I just did it,” Keselowski said. “I didn’t think much about it. I thought it was something different and wanted to take a picture of it and send it out. If I tried to calculate that, I never could in a million years. I had no idea that the race would be red-flagged for a fire… You just can’t plan those things.”
The desire to remain authentic is Keselowski’s social media philosophy. In the months since his tweet seen around the world, Keselowski has been approached about marketing and promotional activities on Twitter but he’s not biting unless it adheres to his personal policy.
“I think that when you do things out of that spot in your heart and mind that are authentic it showcases who you are and what you think is cool,” Keselowski said. “Other people appreciate that.”
Keselowski is the NASCAR personality most associated with social media. He’s also the most interactive with it, hosting annual Q&A sessions with fans throughout the season, including during the now-famous Daytona delay, leading Twitter to become a key part of his image – something he’s not ashamed of. In fact, if social media were to disappear, Keselowski says he would miss it more than the fans would.
“I would say social media has developed into part of my persona without a doubt,” Keselowski said. “I enjoy it probably more than our fans do. It is a little bit selfish in nature of how I look at it but I am just glad everyone else enjoys it too.”
Keselowski will not have as many opportunities to tweet this season, at least while inside the car, as a result of a NASCAR rules clarification that prohibits drivers from using smart phones while inside their cars. The rule intendeds to curb any advantage a phone could gain by interacting with the car’s onboard telemetry systems.
"Sure, there was some potential to crack some new app or whatever," Keselowski said. "The reality of it is you could do that right now and not get caught, if you just didn't use Twitter. Everybody else in the field could have the phone in their car and just not be showcasing that they're using it and do all the things NASCAR was worried about.
"I think it was more about trying to set a public statement than any impact that the phone actually does."
Keselowski will officially debut in a Ford this weekend following his Penske Racing team’s switch from Dodge to the Blue Oval - but only for Daytona 500 practice and qualifying. Keselowski did not win a pole last season and thus did not meet the entry requirements for the Sprint Unlimited – the rechristened Budweiser Shootout. Instead, Keselowski will be featured on the FOX television broadcast as an analyst.
Keselowski believes that missing the Unlimited will limit his chances of winning the Daytona 500 but not completely eliminate them. He’s hoping his television role will give him a chance to learn something new and take that with him in qualifying and the Gatorade Duels.
“I think any driver not in a race is disappointed not to be in it,” Keselowski said. “I think it limits some of your ability to win the 500. Not all of it, but some of it. This isn’t t-ball though. Not everybody plays. We didn’t earn our spot and we don’t play. It is pretty simple. This is professional sports and we need to earn our spot.
“We spend our time and energy working on what we could do to win the championship, not winning a pole. If I could choose being in the shootout or winning the championship I would take the damn championship 100 out of 100 days. So screw it.”