NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

 
    === The Inside Line: Keselowski enjoying new-found celebrity status ===
 
 By Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor
 
 Philadelphia,  PA (Sports Network) - Brad Keselowski has been NASCAR's social-
 media  sensation  throughout the year, but  his championship in the Sprint Cup
 Series has elevated him to the top of the sport.
 
 Step aside Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart. There's a new champion in NASCAR's
 top  series. Either  Johnson  or Stewart  had  won the  title  each year  from
 2005-11,  but Keselowski  is now the one  on the Sprint Cup throne. And what a
 unique champion he's going to be.
 
 Keselowski,  a  28-year-old Twitter-crazed driver from Rochester Hills, Mich.,
 is the first next-generation driver in Cup to win a championship.
 
 He's  currently in  a  whirlwind  of media  obligations,  including a  Tuesday
 appearance  on  The Late  Show with  David Letterman. He'll  be honored as the
 champion next week in Las Vegas.
 
 "I'm  going to meet some cool people," Keselowski said. "I've always wanted to
 date a celebrity. I'm just throwing that out there. That would be really cool,
 don't you think? Not a Kardashian."
 
 What  a year  it's been for Keselowski, particularly with his Twitter stardom.
 Keselowski's  popularity significantly increased within hours, as he generated
 more  than 100,000  new followers  on the  social media  site, after  tweeting
 photos  and commentary  of a freakish accident that occurred in the late-going
 of  the  Feb. 27 rain-delayed Daytona  500. Juan Pablo Montoya lost control of
 his  car  and then slammed  into the back of  a track-drying vehicle while the
 race was under caution.
 
 NASCAR  officials didn't  exactly approve of Keselowski pulling his cell phone
 out  of  his driver-suit pocket while  the race was briefly stopped for track-
 surface repairs. Shortly after, NASCAR implemented a rule banning drivers from
 having electronic devices in their cars during competition.
 
 Who became the first driver to violate the rule? Keselowski, of course.
 
 Last  week, NASCAR  penalized Keselowski with a $25,000 fine and probation for
 the  remainder of the year for having a phone in his car while on the track at
 Phoenix.  He  was using  it when  NASCAR red-flagged  the race following Clint
 Bowyer and Jeff Gordon's accident.
 
 Keselowski's  rise to  greatness in NASCAR's premier racing circuit has been a
 bumpy  ride over  the years to say  the least. During his first full-season of
 competition  in  Sprint Cup two years  ago, many wondered if the Penske Racing
 driver  would make  it in  the  series. Even  though Keselowski  won the  2010
 Nationwide  Series  championship, his  season in  Cup that  year was less than
 stellar,  as he  recorded just two top-10  finishes and ended the year 25th in
 points.
 
 "I think I suffered from some serious confidence issues when I first came into
 Cup  that were a  result of, you know, a lot of things, mostly just not having
 the speed to be successful and trying to do too much," Keselowski admitted. "I
 was  trying too  hard to be the 'I'  in team, and there is none. That's pretty
 obvious looking back now. But I didn't know that. I do now."
 
 In  an  attempt to boost  Keselowski's Cup efforts  for 2011, team owner Roger
 Penske  moved Paul Wolfe into the crew chief role for Keselowski, who switched
 from  the No.  22  car  to the  No.  2, the  "Blue  Deuce,"  with Miller  Lite
 sponsoring his efforts. Wolfe guided him to the Nationwide title.
 
 Keselowski  and  Wolfe didn't storm  out of  the gate at  the start of the '11
 season, but the two made incredible headway later in the year, particularly in
 August when he won at Pocono and Bristol as well as finished second at Watkins
 Glen,  N.Y. and third  at Michigan while driving with a broken left ankle. His
 surge  in the late going of the regular season earned him a wild card spot for
 the championship Chase. He went on to finish the year fifth in points.
 
 "It's not until you have a group around you that shows you that you don't have
 to  do  all the work, that  you can share it,  and that as long as you respect
 them,  care about  them and work with them, you can be successful," Keselowski
 said.  "And  that's something I  had to  learn on my  own. I never had anybody
 teach me that. Nobody ever taught me about teamwork. That's something I had to
 learn on my own."
 
 With  three wins during the regular season, Keselowski began this year's Chase
 in  the fourth seed.  He quickly jumped to the top of the point standings when
 he won the Sept. 16 Chase-opener at Chicagoland.
 
 "Once  we won Chicago, I felt like we could do it," Keselowski said. "I really
 did.  And I knew that  we had the speed. So many mile and a halfs in the Chase
 and  all of them aren't away like Chicago, and I felt like at that moment that
 we had a group that could get the job done."
 
 After  a  fierce points  battle with  Johnson in the  first eight Chase races,
 Keselowski pulled ahead of Johnson by 20 points at Phoenix after the five-time
 series  champion  cut a tire  and made  contact with the  wall, which led to a
 32nd-place finish.
 
 Johnson's  hopes of winning  a sixth title went up in smoke when he suffered a
 failed  rear-gear on  his car,  leading to  a 36th-place  finish and  allowing
 Keselowski to easily wrap up the championship.
 
 "I'm  just disappointed  that  we came  so  close," Johnson  said  "We had  80
 percent  of  the Chase that we  wanted to have, a  ton of momentum late in the
 season, and then those final two races bit us."
 
 So how will Keselowski do in his new role as Sprint Cup champion?
 
 "He'll do great," four-time Cup champion and Homestead race winner Jeff Gordon
 said.  "His ability to  reach out to the social media and the younger crowd, I
 think  that  he's somebody  that wants  to take it  and wants  to be that, and
 because of that, he'll put a lot of effort into it.
 
 "He's entertaining. You never know what you're going to get with Brad. I enjoy
 or look forward to watching him, and I think with this experience that he will
 just  mature to  a whole  new  level because  of  being in  this position  and
 carrying this responsibility. When he sees all that's involved, every champion
 that  I've  ever seen win their  first one, they always  come out of it with a
 whole new perspective on past champions."
 
 After becoming Sprint Cup's newest champion, Keselowski tweeted, "We did it!"
 
 He sure did, and now he's feeling on top of the world.
 
 11/20 15:42:09 ET

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