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For Brad Keselowski, family matters at Homestead race

Mike Ehrmann

It was suggested by a former NASCAR champion on Thursday that having family members at the track can create a distraction for a title contender not used to having them around.

And Brad Keselowski – who holds a 20-point lead heading into Sunday's season finale – just so happens to have invited a bunch of his family to the track this weekend.

Uh oh! What does that mean? Is it doom for the No. 2 team?

Hardly. That suggestion came Jimmie Johnson – who just so happens to have a lot of motivation to plant any seed of doubt in Keselowski's head.

But aside from Johnson's barbs, Keselowski having his parents and siblings at the racetrack on Sunday actually is significant.

Why? Because it doesn't happen all that often.

Keselowski's mother, Kay, attended between six and 10 races this season – not many considering there's a 38-event schedule.

His father, Bob, didn't attend any of them.

In fact, Bob Keselowski hasn't been to the track since Martinsville in October 2011. That day, the car he and son Brian worked on together – driven by Dennis Setzer – failed to qualify for the race.

And if he doesn't have something to work on, Brad said, his dad – a former ARCA champion and Truck Series race winner – won't show.

"To get my dad to a come a race weekend to actually watch is a big accomplishment," Brad said. "It feels pretty good to have him here."

There will be several Keselowskis at the track on Sunday. Bob and Kay will be in attendance to watch their son potentially win his first Cup title and Keselowski's sister and confidant, Dawn Nicholas, will be there as usual. Even brother Brian – who grew up sparring with Brad – is flying down on race morning.

"That's going to be great," Brad said. "Glad to have him here, or any family for that matter. And I think if you know the personal relationship that my brother and I have, you would understand why that's such an accomplishment for him to be here Sunday."

Most NASCAR fans are familiar with Bob Keselowski thanks to his now-famous interview after Carl Edwards wrecked Brad at Gateway.

"He ain't gonna kill my boy," Bob Keselowski seethed to ESPN after the crash.

Brad said his father caught a lot of flak over the Gateway interview, but said it was out of character for his dad to be in the spotlight at all.

"In reality he's never been that up-front, in‑your‑face‑type, (never been) a Little League coach dad," Keselowski said. "He's never been that way. I don't see him being any different this weekend, and if he is, we brought a second bus to throw him in, and we'll just lock him inside of it."

Some parents are frequently seen at the track, some are not. There's little consistency through the field in that regard, and it matters not whether a driver is a big name or small.

Edwards' mother is a constant presence, as is Denny Hamlin's mom (she even interacts with fans at tweetups). Some of the dads act as spotters – Clint Bowyer's dad for start-and-park drivers, Landon Cassill's dad for his son.

If the family isn't typically around, though, it could throw off a driver's routine – at least that's what Johnson is banking on.

"The magnitude sets in at some point," Johnson said as Keselowski listened. "I've been there, and I've been the guy leading the points, and people are so curious to know all these what‑ifs – what if it happens? – and you're forced to answer questions that you're not used to answering, that you don't want to answer. It builds through the course of the week."

Keselowski, of course, sees it differently. His dad, for example, isn't usually the type of guy to tell his son "good job" – he shows his approval in other ways.

One of those will be attending the race where Brad could become a NASCAR champion.

"I think that probably speaks more volumes than anything else as to how my family is feeling that, those moments," Brad said. "... I have to rely on those outside things, so it's good to see him at the racetrack this weekend. My brother and my mom and sister (are) coming out.

"That makes me feel like it really means a lot to them."