Brad Keselowski trying to master ‘chess game’ of Talladega
LINCOLN, Ala. (BVM) – In 2009, 25-year-old Brad Keselowski was making just his fifth career NASCAR Cup Series start at Talladega. Driving the No. 09 car for Phoenix Racing owned by James Finch, no one expected the young Keselowski to be a true contender to win the Aaron’s 499.
Although he stayed near the top of the pack throughout, Keselowski led just one lap in that race. However, it was the one that mattered, as Keselowski passed veteran driver Carl Edwards on the final lap, earning his first career Cup Series victory while pulling off one of the biggest upsets in Cup Series history.
8 years ago today, Brad Keselowski won the 2009 Aaron's 499 @ Talladega, Keselowski's 1st NASCAR Cup win. pic.twitter.com/JMpLy2GrXX
— Andrew (@Basso488) April 26, 2017
While he was already a force on the Nationwide Series at that time, the Talladega win opened up a multitude of new opportunities for Keselowski, who eventually joined Team Penske as a full-time Cup Series driver in 2010.
“To be able to, at the time, walk in the door at different places and say, ‘I’m a Cup winner and I’m looking for a ride,’ that was a pretty strong endorsement on your resume,” Keselowski said during an interview on BVM Sports’ Cup Connection. “I think it opened up opportunities that didn’t exist for me previously. I thought that was super exciting and it was just a launch pad for my career.”
Since that victory 14 years ago, Keselowski has earned five more wins at Talladega Superspeedway, with the most recent coming in the 2021 GEICO 500.
Brad @Keselowski WINS as they crash behind him at Talladega! Retweet to congratulate @Team_Penske and the No. 2 crew. pic.twitter.com/3SCDHAgocM
— FOX: NASCAR (@NASCARONFOX) April 25, 2021
The six career victories put Keselowski in some elite company, as he is tied for the second-most wins at Talladega with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr., and trails only Dale Earnhardt Sr. who won 10 times at the Alabama track.
The fans and the metal recycling company. https://t.co/SmxYeCclZ6
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) April 18, 2023
“I love it, I love the challenge,” Keselowski said. “It’s really a big chess game at 200 miles per hour. It can be super intimidating. The track is always trying to get you in the big one. In the back of your mind, you’re always thinking this is super dangerous, I’m gonna wreck. You gotta put that behind you and go to work.
“If you would have told me at the start of my career I would win at Talladega six times, I would’ve thought you were crazy. Now, I kind of lament on the ones I feel like I could’ve won and didn’t win.”
While his success at Talladega has been a constant, the style of racing there with the evolution of the cars NASCAR has used over the past decade-and-a-half has changed quite a bit. In fact, now racing in the next-gen cars, there is really nothing that’s the same as it was back in 2009 for the driver of the RFK Racing No. 6 Ford.
“You have to really adapt and mold to the cars as they change,” Keselowski said. “There’s not a single thing about what I did to win my first race that really carries over to what I think it’s gonna take to win this week. And that’s part of it. That’s part of the challenge that I embrace and I love.”
Another thing that’s different from Keselowski’s first six Talladega wins is that this time around, he comes to the track as a team owner. In the summer of 2021, Keselowski became a part owner of Roush Fenway Racing, rebranding the team to RFK Racing.
Now in his second season as a co-owner and driver for RFK, Keselowski is not only hoping to see individual success, but he is also relishing the opportunity to see his team evolve.
RFK embodies six core values that we strive to live by every day. This week I talked to our team about the value of being a self-starter and challenged all of @RFKracing to create a growth plan to work towards both personally and professionally. Striving for greatness! pic.twitter.com/m5qO29fwzn
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) April 1, 2023
“Never would’ve thought I’d get this far, I’ll tell you that,” Keselowski said. “It’s great. It’s got the big highs and the low lows, but it’s the dream that I had and I’m working on it every day. I want to get to where we have both of these teams where they can win races, contend for the championship. We’re going in the right direction to be able to do that, but we still have work to do.”
So far this season, the Michigan native is winless, but has put together three top-10 finishes at Fontana, Richmond and Atlanta. This week, he’ll be using the same car he was in at the Daytona 500, as well as his second-place run at Atlanta, hoping to snap a winless stretch that dates back to the 2021 Talladega race.
We’ve got the 𝙚𝙙𝙜𝙚 for @TALLADEGA 🛢️ pic.twitter.com/wMoWGbmi1a
— RFK Racing (@RFKracing) April 20, 2023
Although things have changed considerably since that first Talladega win 14 years ago, Keselowski remains confident in getting the job done. Six wins at one of NASCAR’s most infamous tracks is already impressive, but getting a seventh would be something truly special.
“I’ve been very fortunate to win six times, I’m super proud of that,” Keselowski said. “Six is great, seven is better. I’m trying to get No. 7 this week.”