When Brad Keselowski meets President Obama on Tuesday to be honored as NASCAR’s 2012 Sprint Cup champion, he might want to ask the leader of the free world how he goes about handling North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.
While Obama is dealing with Jong-un, a grandson
trying desperately to consolidate his power, Keselowski has his own Jong-un
problem. His name is Brian France. And while France’s arsenal doesn’t include
nuclear weapons or missiles, he can certainly do plenty of damage to Keselowski
and Roger Penske Racing.
In the days after Keselowski captured the title last year at Homestead, many wondered aloud if NASCAR would allow
Brad to be Brad. He had proven to be
refreshingly opinionated, honest and outspoken during the season and it carried
through a sometimes raucous title celebration.
By the time the victory tour reached NASCAR’s season-sending banquet in
Las Vegas, people were no longer wondering -- they were pleading.
Please let Brad be Brad. For a sport in need of some new blood and
excitement, Keselowski was both.
The honeymoon didn’t last long, however. Not even to the first race of the 2013
season. Just a few days before the
Daytona 500, Keselowski showed up on the front page of USA Today with a
critique of what ails NASCAR. His
comments were spot on. But those concerning
NASCAR’s leadership hit a little too close to home.
problem I see in the sport is that there are multiple entities that have to
work together for us to be successful,” he told the paper's Nate Ryan. “We have sponsors — partners, or whatever the
hell you want to call them — tracks, the sanctioning body and the teams. Those
are our four groups, and how well they cooperate dictates what we have as a
product for our fans. And our fans create everything.”
“When Bill France Jr. was in charge of NASCAR,
he had control of all these pieces and wasn't at the mercy of the TV world. He
had control of the tracks and NASCAR, which is now divided in two with Lesa
(France Kennedy, president of International Speedway Corp. that controls 12
tracks) and (NASCAR Chairman) Brian (France). France Jr. had relationships with
the sponsors, drivers and teams. Now we don't have that. Those three other
pieces are segregated. Those three pieces need to get together. And until all
three of those can unite, we're a house divided, and we're making bad decisions
that are affecting how to generate revenue for the sport.”
exploded. Keselowski was called in for a
scolding. Can’t help but wonder what
would have happened had that discussion come earlier, not later.
Keselowski said all the right things, about how he didn’t realize how committed
Lisa and Brian are to the sport. But he
also warned he would continue to speak out and he has.
Since then things have gone south between
Keselowski, Penske Racing and NASCAR. The
Penske cars have come in for added scrutiny during the inspection process. At Martinsville, Keselowski’s car was held in
tech inspection and nearly missed qualifying.
Then just as he moved into contention during the race, he was forced to
realign his car in his pit box, an official saying the car's tire was over the line, although replays
showed there was clearly space between his tire and the white line.
It went from bad to worse at Texas, where both
Penske cars were held in pre-race inspection.
Rear end parts “not in the spirit of the rules” according to NASCAR were
confiscated and the team forced to make significant changes to the car. Keselowski was able to make it to the grid in
time for the start, but teammate Joey Logano was forced to start from the back
of the field. Keselowski came home
ninth, but it was apparent the 500 miles had done nothing to cool him off.
"I have one good thing to say.
That's my team and effort they put in today in fighting back with the
absolute bullshit that's been the last seven days in this garage area. The
things I've seen over the last seven days have me questioning everything that I
believe in, and I'm not happy about it. I don't have anything positive to say
and I probably should just leave it at that."
Of course he couldn’t. Brad was being
"There's so much stuff going on,” he said to reporters, “you have no fucking
idea what's going on. And that's not
your fault. That's not a slam on you. I
could tell you there's nobody, no team in this garage with the integrity of the
(No.) 2 team. And the way we've been treated over the last seven days is
absolutely shameful. I feel like we've been targeted over the last seven days
more than I've ever seen a team targeted. But my guys kept their heads on
straight and they showcased why they are a winning team and championship team.
We're not going to take it. We're not going to be treated this way.”
Ironically, it was Keselowski who first went public with the rear end story
near the end of last year when he called out the No. 48 for stretching the
rules. Someone asked if Keselowski was
“I'm very worried about losing my crew
chief, Paul Wolfe, but I tell you I've got one of best owners in the garage and
I'm going to be first one at his desk telling him if anything happens like that
we'll both be in a meeting with anybody and everybody who'll listen. There's
been so much stuff going on I could make a list two pages long, but go ahead
throw that one on there. I'm out.”
So are France and NASCAR targeting the Roger Penske team? It doesn’t matter. Keselowski thinks they are and now it’s in his head.
Tuesday should be an interesting day. Not only will Keselowski, Wolfe and Roger
Penske be meeting the President (along with NASCAR executives), that’s the day
fines and suspension s are normally handed down. Fines and suspension are usually handed out
for NASCAR on Tuesday.
Could make Congressional infighting
look tame by comparison.