Unapologetic Brad Keselowski: ‘I’m never going to be Dale Jr.’

Brad Keselowski (left) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (right) are at opposite ends of the popularity spectrum.

Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty I/Getty Images

To say Brad Keselowski had a tumultuous 2014 season would be a bit of an understatement. The 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion won six races, regularly had one of the fastest cars and was a serious contender in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Yet in the closing weeks of the season, Keselowski’s on-track moves caused controversy and concern throughout the Sprint Cup garage.

After the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in October, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth each tried to get after the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford in the garage area, with Kenseth attempting to tackle him between haulers and setting off a brawl between the teams.

Two weeks later at Texas Motor Speedway, four-time champion Jeff Gordon took issue with a late-race move made by Keselowski and let him know after the race. Gordon and his team confronted Keselowski and his team, and when Kevin Harvick nudged Keselowski in Gordon’s direction, the incident exploded into yet another brawl, this time with both Keselowski and Gordon walking away bloodied.

With the 2014 season behind him and the 2015 season less than a month away, Keselowski is not worried about the fallout from the wild end of last season.

"Honestly, it didn’t affect me that much," said Keselowski. "I know that might not be easy to believe, but I didn’t spend the whole offseason worrying about a dustup at Charlotte, Texas or anywhere else."

While he may not have worried about the late-season dustups, there is no guarantee his rivals — namely Gordon, Kenseth and Hamlin — have put the past in the past.

Still, Keselowski is not necessarily concerned about what his competitors think or if they will race him more aggressively.

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"Not if I’m in front of them," he said. "If I’m in front of them, I won’t have to worry about that, so that’s where I’m putting all my effort at this time."

After the 2014 incidents with Kenseth and Gordon — both veterans and former champions of the sport — Keselowski admits his image and popularity took a hit, but pointed out he is not in NASCAR to be everyone’s favorite driver.

"I’m never going to be Dale (Earnhardt) Jr., and I’m OK with that," said Keselowski. "Certainly, everybody wants to be popular. I’m no exception to that, but not at the expense of running well.

"For me to run well, I have to challenge the status quo. I have to challenge the established drivers that have been in the sport and won four championships and competed 10 to 20 years. That’s how I’m going to win races. If I have to challenge the fan base that goes along with that and make a few of them mad along the way, that’s an accepted casualty, because success on the racetrack comes first to me."

Keselowski said he wants to be successful in "the right way," and says he is comfortable with what took place in Charlotte and Texas because he "did the right thing."

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"I’m trying to do what I think is right, and what I think is right is not always what everyone else thinks is right, and that’s OK," he said.

Crew chief Paul Wolfe admits it is a tough balance between Keselowski’s aggressive nature on the track and outspoken nature off the track, but vows he will continue to support his driver.

"I kind of more focus on the on-track, how he’s racing, how he’s racing competitors, those things," Wolfe said. "If I see him do something that I feel is out of line, I’ll be the first to tell him," said Wolfe, adding that he had not seen anything to date to warrant that discussion.

Wolfe admitted he does not always agree with Keselowski’s outspoken nature, but admires his character and willingness to stand out from the crowd.

"The one thing I admire about Brad is that he’s not going to change who he is because of his peers or what other people think of him," Wolfe said. "He’s going to stay true to himself, and there’s a lot to be said for that."