Keselowski faces retaliation, no true Rookie of the Year, more
Brad Keselowski's hard racing has often prompted strong retaliation from drivers
Kyle Busch admitted to spinning Keselowski out intentionally last weekend
Don't be surprised to see Marcos Ambrose take a win during NASCAR's off-week
1. He "wont' back down." We all know that. But maybe Brad Keselowski's rivals should, just a little bit.
Brad K. has built his image around hard driving and an uncanny ability to ruffle more than a few feathers along the way; it's why he made the tongue-in-cheek pick of Tom Petty's ode to tenacity for his Bristol entrance theme back in March. As the lyrics go:
In a world that keeps on pushin' me around
But I'll stand my ground and I won't back down
It's certainly given Keselowski an image, but unfortunately for him, it's also been resulting in a far more frustrating side effect than the season-long probation NASCAR handed him after Nationwide incident at Gateway in July. Now when Brad K. pushes, the retaliation is often excessive.
Take last weekend at Bristol. Keselowski and Kyle Busch were racing for the lead in the Nationwide race when Brad K. and Busch made contact and Busch's No. 18 clipped the wall. As they drove through Turn 4, Busch spun Keselowski into the corner, forcing him to pit road for repairs. Busch won, en route to his historic sweep at Thunder Valley, while Brad K. limped into a 14th-place finish.
Busch later admitted that he spun Keselowski on purpose, saying "[I] dumped him. He does it to everybody else. Why can't I do it to him?"
Sorry, KB, but the "Brad had it coming" seemed a little much after Carl Edwards stewed in the garage in Atlanta before coming back out and sending Keselowski airborne, and it got real tired after Edwards took him out on the final lap at Gateway after Brad K. got him loose.
NASCAR says it plans to penalize either Busch or Keselowski for, as vice president of competition Robin Pemberton, called it "good, hard racing," though there seems to be a bit of a difference between what Busch did and what Keselowski did: Keselowski was battling for position and Busch was driving with malice, intending to wreck his rival.
Despite laying down the gauntlet with his arse-calling introduction before the Cup race, Keselowski played it relatively safe when Busch was about to put him a lap down. He made KB work to get around him, then proceeded to allow David Reutimann to pass without much trouble. Of course, what other option did Keselowski have? He is on probation and if he would have returned the favor while Busch was running down his sweep, it would have been the wrong kind of attention for a driver that seems a magnet for it.
But it does seem somewhat wrong that Keselowski has become a whipping boy of sorts. It's as if rivals are given carte blanche once he pushes their buttons and Keselowski has little power to fight back without landing himself in hot water with NASCAR once again. Brad K. may have put himself in this position with an unwillingness to back off of his hard-driving ways, but that doesn't seem cause for the on-track punishments he's receiving.
2. The list of Rookie of the Years is a who's who of NASCAR stars, going all the way back from Richard Petty to Dale Earnhardt Sr., to Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin. It's a near-guarantee of stardom (the occasional Reagan Smith or Mike Skinner aside) and no offense to Kevin Conway, but that award shouldn't be handed out this year.
As the only rookie who has been on the track for the majority of the season -- Terry Cook and Whitney Motorsports parted ways in May -- Conway has become the eventual winner by default. But he's 35th in the standings and has just three lead-lap finishes. Had he not been rescued by Robby Gordon Motorsports, Conway wouldn't even have a ride after sponsor Extenze suspended his funding with his former team, Front Row Motorsports.
Conway is clearly in over his head in Cup. Before this season, he had 25 Nationwide starts and one Trucks race to his credit and his career-best N'wide finish was 15th in Kentucky in 2009.
He's not the only ROY to struggle. Smith was 34th in points in winning in 2008, but he also had Sam Hornish Jr., Michael McDowell and Dario Franchitti as competition, while Conway will basically be the first uncontested winner since Shorty Rollins in 1958. Ultimately, this is Rookie of the Year, not Rookie Who Made It Through The Year and winning by default just isn't the same thing as actually winning or deserving to win. No offense to Conway, but if ever there was a year to vacate the award, it would be this one.
1,093 -- Carl Edwards' points over the last seven races, the most of any driver.
8 -- Spots Edwards has jumped in the standings over that stretch, going from 12th before Daytona to fourth after Bristol.
0 -- Edwards' wins in that span. He still hasn't won since Nov. 16, 2008.
With the big boys off enjoying their final off-week of the season, all NASCAR eyes will be on Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and yes for those inquisitive minds, Gilles' son Jacques Villeneuve is on the entry list. Don't be surprised if Jacques, who is a former Formula One champ, runs near the top, but considering this is a road course, I'm taking Marcos Ambrose, who won the Nationwide race at Watkins Glen and finished third in the Cup event, while also coming in sixth at Sonoma. Road warrior, indeed.