What do you say about Brad Keselowski's run? I mean, where does this rank in the where-did-he-come-from discussion?
Villanova winning the NCAA title in 1985?
USA hockey beating the Soviet Union?
This isn't hyperbole, and no, Keselowski hasn't won anything yet. But who saw this coming?
Until June 5, Keselowski had one win and eight top 10s – in his entire career. Since then, he's won three times, including a string over the last month and a half that reads like this: 9th, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 1st.
That he's been racing with a broken ankle for the last month is an afterthought now, so much so that even he's forgotten. After getting out of his car to celebrate his win at Bristol on Saturday night – victory No. 3 on the season, essentially locking him into the Chase – Keselowski began jumping up and down on the roof of his car, then hopped straight down to the ground.
"Stupid is as stupid does," Keselowski said afterward. "I don't know. It's worth it to win the race."
Oh, well. Nothing to worry about. The body has a knack for ignoring pain when things are going your way, inexplicably or otherwise.
"I don't know what more to say about Brad and the No. 2 team," said Jeff Gordon, who led the most laps Saturday night only to finish third. "They're, to me, as strong of a team out there that there is right now.
"I think it's really ironic that he had the issue at Road Atlanta [when Keselowski broke his ankle], and ever since then he's been on fire," Gordon continued. "I think he proved to all of us he's tougher than we thought he was."
Toughness, sure, but there are more pressing matters than proving one's toughness, namely winning a championship, and the following statement no longer hangs out on a limb: Brad Keselowski is a championship contender.
How can he not be considered as much?
In the run up to the Chase, you know, when things matter, he's won at Pocono – a huge, flat track – finished second on the road course at Watkins Glen, third at the speedy two-miler at Michigan and now has a win on Bristol's half-mile bullring.
Gordon dominated much of Saturday night's race, turning back the clock with an up-on-the-wheel performance circa 1998. He started fourth, quickly worked his way to the front and led a race-high 206 laps.
(On a side note, doesn't it seem like forever since Gordon has been a championship contender? It hasn't been – he nearly won the thing in 2007 – but it just seems that way. Without question, Gordon is showing he'll be in this year's championship mix, too.)
Ultimately, it came down to pit strategy – both in the stalls and on pit road. On the race's final stop, Keselowski and his No. 2 team opted to take two tires to Gordon's four. That, and Keselowski jetting out of his pit stall (to speed by Gordon on pit road) put him in second, next to Martin Truex Jr. (who also took two tires) for the final restart with 80 laps to go.
One lap into the run, Keselowski got by Truex, who finished second, and sailed from there.
"I don't think there's anything different," Keselowski said when asked what's changed over the last month. "I don't know."
Crew chief Paul Wolf said he's been asked that question a lot over the last month. He says they've made a lot of changes to make their cars better, too many to list, and he – in his first season as a crew chief in the Cup Series – is finally starting to understand those changes.
"And then I feel as we started to go back to tracks for a second time, that's where we've started to shine," he explained.
There was a time when Keselowski looked to be all talk and very little show. All of his success (save for a crapshoot win at Talladega) had come in the Nationwide Series, and it appeared maybe the safety net of racing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. had gone to his head. On his way up, Keselowski rankled Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin, just to name a few, earning him a less-than-stellar "Bad Brad" reputation.
He looked to have caught the entitlement bug, but somewhere between last season and this one he shook it off – or has proven to be not what he appeared to be. He's shown himself to be humble, friendly, and is a champion for our military unlike any other in the sport. During driver introductions Saturday night, Keselowski had a veteran join him. His victory celebration began by grabbing an American flag and waving it in their honor, not his. And instead of heading home after his win at Bristol, Keselowski stuck around until Sunday to give ride-alongs to veterans.
"I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity and to not have screwed it up," he said. "There were several times where I felt like I had.
"I can remember talking to my brother right before he got the chance to start the Daytona 500," Keselowski continued. "I asked him, 'What do you think – how you're going to do in the race?' He said, 'I don't care; I can't believe I'm in the Daytona 500. I'm going to get to run it. No matter what happens this is the best day of my life.' And I try to keep that in perspective, how lucky I was just to even be running this race and how fortunate I am to be a part of this sport, let alone to be leading it at the end and to win it."
A month ago, Keselowski sat 21st in the standings. Today, he's 11th and charging into the Chase with a fuller head of steam than anyone – more than Kyle Busch, more than Jimmie Johnson, more than Carl Edwards. When his surge first started, it seemed like a nice little story, one that would lead him into the Chase but not much further. He's proving otherwise now, and if it does continue all the way to Homestead-Miami, we'll be talking about the most improbable run the sport has ever known.
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- Brad Keselowski