November 16, 2009
No offense to Jimmie Johnson and his fans, but this has been a deadly dull Chase season. Thank heaven, then, for Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski, who've been injecting the last few months with some good old-fashioned chrome-horn brawling.
The backstory: Keselowski is barely a rookie, having run only about a dozen races at NASCAR's highest level. But in that short span of time, he's already managed to tick off and/or concern every driver in the garage, chief among them Denny Hamlin. Being a locker-room jerk is one thing when you're running on a football field; it's a whole different deal when you're driving two-ton vehicles at 200 mph.
Jet Ski and The Hamster have a long history dating back to a brawl last season in a Nationwide race, and they've been sniping back and forth all season. Contact between the two drivers has led to five Hamlin wrecks, which is getting close to justification for Hamlin meeting Keselowski out back of the garage with a pipe wrench.
This past weekend at Phoenix, Keselowski flat-out spun Hamlin late in the race. Here, check the video:
As a result, NASCAR sat Keselowski down for a little come-to-Jesus meeting. Hamlin, meanwhile, has all but promised to wreck Keselowski next weekend at Homestead, which puts that race from irrelevant -- Kyle Busch has already unofficially won the Nationwide championship -- to must-watch TV.
Keselowski has already singlehandedly altered the entire complexion of this season. He was a proximate cause of the season's most spectacular wreck, the Carl Edwards wall-scrub at Talladega in April. Then just two weeks ago, Keselowski started the catastrophic wreck at Talladega that took out Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Juan Pablo Montoya and cleared the way for Jimmie Johnson to roll to his fourth straight title.
And drivers all over the garage are expressing concern with Keselowski's style. (Listen in on a few reactions from Saturday night.) "What is wrong with that kid?" Kyle Busch called over the radio during Saturday night's race, an interesting query considering that, until this year, Kyle was the unchallenged Most Hated Driver In NASCAR. His brother Kurt, Keselowski's own teammate, was collected in the second Talladega wreck and bellowed his displeasure, to put it politely, with his new teammate.
If you're a NASCAR fan, you're probably concerned that this guy's going to dump your favorite driver. And if you've left the sport -- or if you've never been a fan -- Keselowski might just be the guy to bring you into the fold. He's feisty, he's old-school, he's arrogant as hell, and he's going to be getting headlines next year, that's for sure.
And in a sport that could desperately use some excitement, Keselowski looks like he's going to deliver. Buckle up.
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