Brad Keselowski: I'd rather get booed than be irrelevant
Brad Keselowski blew into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in a great mood Tuesday afternoon, and why not?
The 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion had defied the odds less than 48 hours earlier by winning in spectacular fashion the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. The win automatically advanced Keselowski to the Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, just when it looked like his title hopes were over.
And so when he arrived at the NASCAR Hall for the Eliminator Media Day event, Keselowski was all smiles.
Clad in blue jeans and a long-sleeve dress shirt, Keselowski laughed as he took his place on a director's chair for a 6-minute session with 15 or so reporters gathered to hear him wax rhapsodic about his big victory.
Clearly at ease, Keselowski joked with reporters on his arrival saying, "The sharks are all here!"
But after some good-natured bantering, Keselowski spoke about his image and insisted he wasn't a bad guy wearing a black hat.
"It's temporary," Keselowski said of the perception some have of him being a bad guy. "And if it's permanent, and if it's permanent as a result of standing up for myself in ways that I deem are a necessity, then it is what it is, you know?"
Keselowski said winning is more important to him than the perception of him -- good or bad -- by others.
"My No. 1 goal in racing was never to be the most popular driver," he said. "It's a goal that I have, but it's not a priority. My goal is to win races and achieve the highest level of success on the racetrack possible. And sometimes those goals are in direct conflict with popularity and financial potential, etc. And I'm OK with that. I want to win races and championships, and that's the No. 1 goal in my life."
Matt Kenseth, who tangled with Keselowski after the Charlotte race two weeks ago, said he's not looking for fireworks between the two this Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, site of the first race in the Chase Eliminator Round.
"Part of the risk you take when you do somebody wrong on purpose is that some day you might get that back," said Kenseth. "Obviously, if you make somebody mad enough, they're probably going to try figure out how to do that when it hurts the most. That's just kind of human nature.
"But with that being said, I don't think that's something any of us wants really worries about," Kenseth said.
Surprisingly perhaps, Kenseth defended Keselowski, the very same driver he put in a headlock at Charlotte a couple weeks back.
"Certainly, I don't agree with things that he does and says at times, but I actually really admire Brad's work ethic, how he got to where he was at," said Kenseth. "He got here the old-fashioned way, working hard. I remember seeing him in the Busch (Series) garage, all dirty, driving old cars, driving in the back. And I remember talking to Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. about him one day, and Dale Jr. saying how talented he thought he was."
Kenseth added, "I thinks he works harder at it than most people and tries harder, and that's a lot of the reason for his success."
Kevin Harvick, who earlier in his career seemed to get in the kind of occasional dust-up that Keselowski does now, also had good things to say about his rival, although he acknowledged that Keselowski does sometimes create problems for himself off the track with his comments.
"In the end, he's doing his job," said Harvick. "He's racing his car just as hard as he can to try to win races. As a competitor, he's a great competitor and races how you should race to try and win, and that's not anything you can knock him for."
And borrowing an old line from the late, great Dale Earnhardt, Keselowski said he didn't care if fans booed him or cheered him in pre-race ceremonies, as long as they made noise.
"I'm happy that they're making noise," said Keselowski. "What hurts most is when I went out there and nobody made noise. That's when you don't even feel relevant."