- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Driving for JR Motorsports in the Busch Series is the opportunity of a lifetime for Brad Keselowski. Having such a ride at Michigan International Speedway may well be a dream come true for the third-generation driver with deep Michigan roots.
Until now, Keselowski's only races at the 2-mile facility have been a Craftsman Truck Series start -- a blown engine left him 35th at that race in 2005 -- and a 19th-place finish in an ARCA race last season. Heading into Saturday's Carfax 250, Keselowski arguably has his best chance yet to impress a hometown crowd.
Not to mention his car's owner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr. is looking for a young driver to develop for the future, and if all goes well, that could easily be the 23-year-old Keselowski. He's shown potential in his three starts with the team, but he was on the sidelines the past two races as Earnhardt Jr. put road-racing veteran Andy Pilgrim in the car at Montreal and Watkins Glen.
Keselowski is back in the saddle this weekend and will be driving for the team that finished third in this race a year ago with Robby Gordon behind the wheel.
Growing up 90 minutes from MIS in Rochester Hills, Mich., Keselowski would love to have people talking about the native son for all the right reasons and not just because he's a familiar name.
Grandfather John Keselowski raced, as did father Bob, a past ARCA champion and a winner in the Craftsman Truck Series. Bob and Kay Keselowski fielded a team in the trucks for years before a lack of sponsorship forced them to close the doors. John, Bob and Ron Keselowski (Brad's uncle) were all inducted into the Michigan Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2004.
Now it's Brad's turn to see if he can build a legacy. And with any luck, he'll also get to race against older brother Brian, who will attempt to qualify for the race on speed as his team's outside the top 30 in owners' points.
"Getting to race against him again will be pretty cool," Brad Keselowski said. "We live about an hour and a half or so from the track and racing has always been a part of our lives, so competing against him in front of our hometown crowd will be a lot of fun."
Like most drivers, Keselowski enjoys running the track, which is spacious enough that cars sometimes go four-wide. It's a track where drivers can experiment with various racing lines to learn where the car handles best.
"It's one of the few non-restrictor-plate tracks where the draft comes into play," Keselowski said. "I look for us to be rim-riding up in the high groove during the race like we did in Chicago.
"I ran well at Michigan a couple years ago in the truck race. We had an engine failure and finished in the back, but I had a lot of fun running up front at my hometown track. Coming back with JR Motorsports, I'm looking to seal the deal this year, and I think we have a really good shot at it."
Although Keselowski has a pair of top-15 finishes in his three starts, it remains to be seen if he has enough experience to challenge for the win. Especially when he'll be battling the likes of Roush Fenway Racing drivers David Ragan, Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Carl Edwards.
Roush Fenway Racing has long been a dominant team at MIS, and Roush has all of its Cup drivers in the Busch race. This race will be dominated by Nextel Cup Series drivers, Richard Childress Racing will field cars for Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Jeff Burton, and Hendrick Motorsports will have Mark Martin and Casey Mears behind the wheel.
Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte will be driving for Kevin Harvick Inc., so it will be shocking if a Cup regular doesn't wind up in Victory Lane. The race also will mark the return of Sam Hornish Jr. to the NASCAR ranks at a track where he's actually raced a stock car before.
Hornish won the pole and finished second in June's ARCA race at the track. While speculation continues as to whether he'll jump to NASCAR full time with Penske Racing next year, the one certainty is that he's slated to run five of the final 11 Busch races this year.
When the checkered flag drops, Biffle hopes he's the driver everybody's talking about.
"Michigan is a lot of fun to race at in any series," Biffle said. "The track is so wide and smooth that there are several grooves, which makes for great racing. I've won two Nextel Cup and two Craftsman Truck Series races there, but I've never won a Busch race.
"I finished second a few years ago, and since this team is overdue for a win I think Michigan would be a great place to finally get my first Busch win of the season. We came really close at [O'Reilly Raceway Park] a few weeks ago, so maybe this will be our weekend. Winning close to home for Jack [Roush] and Ford wouldn't hurt, either."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN.
Brad Keselowski gets another chance to impress car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Saturday's Busch Series race at Michigan, writes Mark Ashenfelter.