Commentary

What's next for Keselowski?

Updated: May 8, 2009, 9:34 AM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

Our daily thorns are proved entirely frivolous when the big picture stands up and smacks us in the mouth.

The thing I most admired about David Poole professionally was his innovative mind. Most folks view, and therefore analyze, the sport in a two-dimensional way. David saw it all in 3-D. There are always extraneous variables involved in NASCAR arguments that most don't take the time to dissect. He always did.

And even if you disagreed with a particular 3-D perception of his, he was so damn ornery he made you second-guess your own belief. Even though it pissed you off, you had to admire the passion. It was rare and wonderful. On a personal level, there was a velvet soul under that sandpaper skin. I saw it a couple of times. He was one of those I've loved along the way who taught me a lot about myself, even though I never asked him to.

Starting this week, D2D shifts to Fridays. Perfect. I wear a suit a lot these days, but The Six are innately casual types, jeans and T-shirts and $2 tallboy cans at Jay's at the Lake. Nobody really works on Friday, anyway. Most folks just stand around in the mailroom gabbing, punching buttons on the UPS machine, pretending to care.

I feel certain there's some Better Business Bureau study in the Wall Street Journal about the dramatic three-fold increase in smoke breaks for non-smokers and coffee sprints to the break room for crusty bagel scraps after noon on Friday.

Works for me. Now folks can pregame with The Six, then hit Happy Hour to debate it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need another dash of coffee. TGID2D.

Marty,

Wake me up. Brad Keselowski? BRAD KESELOWSKI? How's this kid pass my guy Junior like he's sitting still to win the race? BRAD KESELOWSKI WON THE RACE, MARTY. Junior [freaking] had it! I'm pissed, shocked and confused all at one time. I might be done with NASCAR, I'm so pissed. Anyway, does this mean Keselowski has earned the 5 car?

-- Paul Fastner, Kill Devil Hills, N.C.

It certainly doesn't hurt his case any, Paul. Keselowski acknowledged Friday at Richmond that he is in negotiations with Hendrick Motorsports on a long-term contract. Will that translate into a full-time Cup ride in 2010? HMS won't have an open seat unless Mark Martin decides not to return to the No. 5. Stay tuned.

Lost in the Talladega mayhem is the simple fact Keselowski drove one helluva race. He managed to elude the early madness and was smart enough at the end to hook up in a two-car draft -- which worked masterfully all day long -- in the track's fastest groove, against a sneaky-fast 99 car.

He had the perfect mentality: We're a part-time team with nothing to lose, bring home the rag or the steering wheel.

[+] EnlargeBrad Keselowski
AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt It took Brad Keselowski only five Cup starts to find his way to Victory Lane.

Then, he took the vet to school. Faked high, let Edwards move up half a lane to block, then dove to the bottom and stuck the left-side tires on the yellow line, got a run and held his ground. He deserves a pat on the backside. It was excellent driving.

I'm befuddled he won but shouldn't be. The 09 has run well in speedway races before -- Mike Wallace finished fourth in the 2007 Daytona 500.

Two years ago Dale Earnhardt Jr. hand-picked Keselowski as a driver. It was the third such "who?" selection for the 88 Chevy. Earnhardt's mission all along for his Nationwide team was to groom young talent. He tried Mark McFarland and then Shane Huffman before settling on Keselowski. That set in motion a whirlwind rise to stardom for the youngster. He wasn't handed a damn thing. He worked for it.

"I'm not surprised at all, because I know how good Brad is and I know how hungry he is," Earnhardt said. "You have to imagine how amazingly driven he was to be sitting there in that position at the end of that race.

"If you know Brad at all personally, you know that's all he does, is think about racing 24/7, what he can do. So he's almost overanalyzing himself at times. I have to kind of tell him to stop thinking so much about it."

Then there's the other variable. Talladega, as drivers say every single time the place is broached, is the sport's biggest crapshoot.

"It is a crapshoot," Earnhardt continued. "All the cars handle the same. Everybody pretty much has the same power. It's anybody's game. It really is. Any car in the field is capable of winning that race."

Even one who'd never before led a lap. (More on that in a moment.)

Here's the thing: Don't get too carried away. I reiterate, Keselowski did a helluva job Sunday. But, as Junior said, Talladega is an anomaly. Keselowski's average finish in four other starts is 26th. In Hendrick equipment.

Jamie McMurray won in his second career start, while subbing for injured Sterling Marlin in the No. 40 Ganassi Dodge at Lowe's Motor Speedway in 2002. Winning early can be both blessing and curse.

Hey Marty,

I was just wondering if any other driver has led one lap in their Cup career and won like Brad did on Sunday?

-- Zac Edwards, Pittsburgh

Nope. Certainly not since 1972, Zac, and probably never. I consulted NASCAR's resident statistical rock star, Mike Forde, for you, and he tells me that way back in the Stone Age official scorers didn't keep lap-leader information.

Officially in those instances, the NASCAR annals state the winner as having led one lap. So Keselowski's feat may have happened at some point in, say, 1956. But there's no true way to tell.

Forde ran a database query for you, Zac, and 11 drivers showed having led one lap at the time of their first win. Ten of those fell under the "no lap leader information" umbrella.

The 11th was Keselowski.

Awesome observation, man.

Marty,

Love your columns and spots on "NASCAR Now." Here's something for your expert opinion. Now that Brad Keselowski has won a Sprint Cup race, what do you think his prospects will be for 2010?

Since Mark Martin seems to want to drive indefinitely instead of his one-year full-time/one-year part-time deal originally discussed, who do you think will be the front-runners for Brad's Cup services? Do you think Junior should jump with JRM and start a Cup team with Brad? (Possibly the No. 8 car if that number becomes available?)

-- Susan, Newington, Conn.

In addressing the media Tuesday, Earnhardt mentioned his want for Keselowski to drive the No. 88 Nationwide car again in 2010, Susan. Beyond that it's Rick Hendrick's decision.

"It's my understanding that that's particularly not any of my business up until they're ready to share that information," Earnhardt said. "Whatever Rick wants to do with Brad, it's up to him on the Cup side. I'm in the business of trying to help guys win races in the Nationwide Series and trying to help them become better race car drivers.

"I feel like we've really achieved that goal with Brad, and he's sort of done what we set out to do with our program. It's really up to him if he wants to keep driving the car. We'll work that out. We're not really in no big hurry. He's got a bright future, so I don't really know what our plans are for finding him opportunities past the level of the Nationwide Series."

Door-To-Door
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Ask Marty

Marty,

The Talladega wreck was unbelievable and I can't believe everyone was OK. Thank goodness they were. We've heard, seen and read every other talking head's opinion of the Talladega finish. The Six has waited a whole week for yours and it's nowhere. Come on, man, don't be a [wimp]! Don't let us down!

-- Timmy Martindale, Chattanooga, Tenn.

I've studied Carl Edwards' flight path on Tivo so much the past couple of days, I feel like Peyton Manning preparing for the Patriots.

Here's what I think:
• I think it's a miracle from God no one was seriously injured or worse.
• I think the yellow-line rule -- and specifically the Regan Smith/Tony Stewart finish last fall -- made this inevitable.
• However, I'm not sure the very same wreck doesn't happen even without the yellow-line rule. Keselowski had nothing to lose. He'd have stood his ground regardless. He had position.
• I agree with NASCAR competition VP Robin Pemberton about the evolution of the wreck: I think Edwards doesn't get airborne if Ryan Newman isn't right there, right then. The rear end of the 99 was on its way back down when Newman's No. 39 struck Edwards' No. 99, sending the 99 into the catchfence.
• I think that's why it's called a catchfence.
• I think that catchfence performed very well.
• I think that doesn't change the fact it can and did happen.
• I think the drivers have every right to complain about plate racing.
• I think the fans have every right to love it.
• I think it was the best show of the season.
• I think the best way to make it better is to do away with lower-level seats at Talladega altogether.

Marty,

Why is Dave Blaney so awful this season? Here are his finishes this season: 42, 41, 43, 42, 43, 42. I've heard of the 40-40 club in baseball but this is ridiculous.

-- Drew, Vienna, Va.

Three words, Drew: Start. And. Park.

Hey Marty,

After watching a bunch of the wrecks at Talladega, I noticed that the cars still have a tendency to turn into airplanes when they go backward. I know Jack Roush's roof flaps are still doing their job, but do you think that the introduction of the wing is providing some lift when the car is going the wrong way at 180-plus mph? I figured if that wing is designed to keep the back of the car down going forward, it would lift the car up going backward.

-- Mark, North Canton, Ohio

Could it happen? Certainly. I'm not naive enough to assume anything can't happen anymore. But in this instance, the wing had nothing to do with Edwards going airborne at Talladega. Again, the rear end of the 99 was coming back down onto the track when struck by Newman's No. 39. Go back and watch it. Pause it. Slow-mo it. You'll see.

I've discussed this situation ad nauseam with high-ranking NASCAR folks this week, and found that they spent hundreds of hours in the wind tunnel with this car -- in reverse -- for just such instances.

The COT has flaws. It drives the teams and drivers plumb batty. But it's safe. NASCAR didn't just toss the thing out there and say, "Well man, this looks good! Let 'er eat!"

It was five years of R&D.

Edwards slammed the fence at 200 mph and Ricky Bobby'd it across the finish line. Think about that.

Random: Folks seemed to enjoy the random-thoughts-from-the-airport thing last week, so here's another random story for you. I tried to contact the "Mike O'Meara Show" up in D.C. earlier this week to have some fun with the hosts. It was mentioned recently on the show that I was "a redneck with shoe polish hair." I love that stuff, think it's hilarious and wanted to hang out with them and laugh a little bit. But when I called they didn't believe it was me. Unfortunately my phone cut out, and when I tried to call back the producer told me it was too late, to try again tomorrow, and hung up on me. I'll try again sometime.

Marty,

How do they determine finishing order when there is a big wreck and cars don't return to the track? Thanks.

-- Brian, Lewiston, Idaho

Good question, Brian. If the wreck occurs before the last lap, NASCAR reverts to the most laps completed in the least amount of time.

In other words, if Brian, Marty and 10 others run 170 laps and wreck, NASCAR reverts to the 170th lap -- the last time they crossed the start/finish line -- and if Brian arrived there before Marty did, and neither returns to the track, Brian is awarded the better finishing position. It's time over distance.

At the end of the race when a big wreck occurs, NASCAR looks at the running order at the last scoring loop, and uses any and all available video to see where the cars were running when the yellow flag was displayed.

Marty,

Always loved your columns. Not only are you a NASCAR fan, but a true Southerner. Saw your mention of you attending an Eric Church show. Just bought his new album -- wow. Turned around and bought his first one three days later. Thanks for the tip on a great artist.

-- Willie McNabb, hometown unknown.

Spread the faith, Willie. Eric is the best songwriter alive. And "Sinners Like Me," his first album, is the best record ever as far as I'm concerned. Even better than "Appetite for Destruction" by GNR. Believe that.

Marty,

Who covers the expense of the race day military flyovers? NASCAR? Taxpayers? Someone else?

-- Anne Myers, N. Manchester, Ind.

That would be your good ol' hard-earned American tax dollars at work, Anne.

Marty,

Your column is a highlight to my week beat only by watching the races. I grew up in Indy so I'd like to know if either sanctioning body would consider moving their Memorial weekend race to allow for drivers to race in both.

I would love to see Tony race in the Indy 500 again. Hey, any chance I could get membership in The Six? It would look great on my résumé!

-- Kevin, Parker, Colo.

You're in, Kevin. As for the 600, it's right where it belongs. Moving the 600 out of Charlotte would be like moving the Derby out of Louisville. It's not just another event. It's America. NASCAR learned that lesson with the Southern 500. Tradition matters.

Hey Marty!

Just realized you're a Jack fan. I'm a huge fan of yours since way back to NASCAR.com. I am a Jack Daniels Tennessee Squire. I would be more then willing to nominate you for squireship!

-- Jon, Agawam, Mass.

I'm way ahead of you, Jon. I've been a Jack squire for years. Even have my own teeny little plot of land in Lynchburg. It's about the size of dinner plate, I figure.

That's my time this week. I won't make it to the Commonwealth this weekend. I have another important engagement to tend to.

***

Marty, wife Lainie and big brother Cambron welcomed Amelia Joy Smith to the world at 7:56 p.m. Thursday. "Mia" weighed in at 7 pounds, 13 ounces.

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.

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