BRAD KESELOWSKI, RYAN BLANEY CONNECTION GOES BEYOND VICTORY LANE

As Ryan Blaney pulled into Pocono Raceway’s victory lane Sunday, a familiar face was waiting to interview NASCAR’s newest first-time winner. In a callback to Blaney interviewing him the day before after winning the Xfinity Series race — Blaney was part of Fox Sports’ drivers-only television broadcast — Brad Keselowski decided to flip roles.

 Keselowski’s decision went beyond just wanting to have fun with a driver who had just won his first Monster Energy Cup Series race. He had, in fact, played an integral part in Blaney, 23, being in the position he currently found himself: standing in victory lane celebrating as a member of Wood Brothers Racing, one of NASCAR’s most legendary teams.

So if Keselowski seemed as excited as Blaney, if not more so, it’s with good reason.

“I didn’t know how I would feel in that moment,” Keselowski said. “It wasn’t something I had really thought about or prepared for, which is probably why it was so enjoyable, to see him in victory lane. And it kind of hits you.

 “I think there’s a lot of moments you have in life that you really don’t prepare for and when it happens it’s just pretty dang awesome. And that was a pretty dang awesome moment for me, to see him win and to see one of his dreams come true.”

It was Keselowski who provided Blaney his first big break in NASCAR when he offered him a chance to drive for his Truck Series team in 2012. From there, Blaney earned a shot at a ride in the Xfinity Series with Team Penske, the organization Keselowski drives for in Cup.

With Blaney continuing to impress with each step up the rung of NASCAR’s developmental ladder and Penske wanting to promote him to Cup, team owner Roger Penske and Ford swung a deal with the Wood Brothers where the iconic team that had recently experienced a downturn in fortune would enter into an alliance with Penske, which would supply the Wood Brothers with equipment, technical data, and personnel.

 Effectively, Blaney became a teammate of Keselowski and Logano starting with the 2015 season. Sixty-six starts later, he won his first race and the first for the Wood Brothers since 2011.

“I wouldn’t be here without Brad, to be honest with you. He’s the one that gave me my start in 2012. I started driving his trucks then and it led to the Penske deal, led to the Wood Brothers deal. I would be nothing if it wasn’t for him taking a chance on me. He’s been a huge person I’ve looked up to. For him to do that really, really makes me feel good. It’s really cool to see his support still. He’s a great person.”

But as special as winning Sunday was for Blaney, Keselowski also felt a sense of accomplishment. The 2012 Cup champion had started Brad Keselowski Racing with the idea it would give aspiring drivers and crew members a chance to break into the sport. It was a genius born from when Keselowski bounced around NASCAR’s minor leagues struggling to find the right opportunity where he could showcase is talent.

 His big break arrived in the form of Truck Series driver Ted Musgrave receiving a one-race suspension for an on-track misdeed during the 2007 season. Needing a replacement, Germain Racing tabbed Keselowski, who proceeded to win the pole and lead 62 laps at Memphis Motorsport Park before getting spun out of the lead with 10 laps remaining.

That stellar relief stint caught the attention of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who placed Keselowski in the Xfinity car he co-owned. Keselowski’s career soon took off, and it wasn’t long before he decided to follow the model of Earnhardt and create a platform for those who aspired to achieve similar dreams.

Blaney’s win represented the first BKR graduate to advance and win at the Cup level. And it’s why afterward it prompted Keselowski to reflect on his first Cup victory where he was greeted in Talladega Superspeedway’s winner’s circle by Earnhardt in a scene much like what transpired Sunday at Pocono.

“To see it come true and know you played some part in it — I’m not sure if it was small or big — but to know that you played some part in it, it’s very rewarding,” Keselowski said. “… I wouldn’t be where I am at in my career without the help of people that have given me the opportunities and I’m thankful for them. But I can never really repay them for that.

“What I can do is pay it forward to others and give that same opportunity. So seeing someone like Ryan win is almost like the best thank you I can give to Dale Jr. or to Roger or to my dad and family that gave me opportunities.”

Recent Posts