Brad Keselowski opens up on his competitors and himself

Brad Keselowski: scheming villain or misunderstood good guy? The jury is still out for many fans, but for his part, Jet Ski knows right where he stands. In a far-ranging interview with NASCAR Illustrated that's just now hitting the web, Keselowski is spilling details on all aspects of his career, from how he's perceived to how he sees himself.

The first time Keselowski showed up on most NASCAR fans' radar was when he and Denny Hamlin scuffled after a 2008 Nationwide race. About a year later, he sent Carl Edwards into the wall to take the checkers in Talladega, and Edwards retaliated early in 2010 with a tap that sent Jet Ski airborne in Atlanta. The fact that Edwards was a lap down and out on the track exclusively to hunt down Keselowski was seen by some as unconscionable, and by others as justifiable payback.

Not long after Atlanta, we compiled a video list of the grievances that many drivers, including Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, had with Keselowski over the course of 2009. Still, Atlanta, and a later Edwards battle at Gateway, seemed to calm Jet Ski a bit -- or, perhaps, snuff out a bit of his fire -- and he ran in late 2010 without incident.

As a result of some of his battles, Keselowski knows he's viewed differently from, say, Joey Logano, but from his perspective, it's not all his fault: "I feel like the drivers out there that are saying you need to earn respect or show respect and then you’ll get it, blah, blah, blah," he said. "I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy in the sport. But I don’t think I necessarily look for a fight. I think a lot of the trouble I get in as a race car driver, where I make some of my competitors angry, is because I throw them off balance and they don’t know what to expect. I force them into making their own mistakes."

Keselowski admits to keeping a close eye on the NASCAR media -- hey, Brad, what's shaking? -- and worries that his image gets manipulated in a way that's out of his control. Still, he knows there are much larger problems in the sport:

"I’m worried every time I walk out on pit road at the start of a race and don’t see a sellout," he said. "I worry when I walk out of the garage and the truck race is going on and there’s 75 fans camped outside the garage looking for an autograph while there’s still a race going on; I worry about what that says."

Like so many other drivers -- Kyle Busch, for one -- Keselowski continues to labor under the image created in his first days in the sport, and it's an image that may not bear a whole lot of connection to the real man. But as long as he and Edwards are racing together, they'll be linked, in storylines if not by bumpers. But once Keselowski starts running well without incident, the image dings of his earliest days will fade.

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