As this sport's champion, Brad Keselowski is always centerstage (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Ummmm, is it too early to wonder what's happened to Brad Keselowski these past few weeks, since that Texas blowup five weeks ago, and the ensuing NASCAR penalties and appeals and controversy?
Coming out of Bristol, four races into the season, the sport's defending champion was atop the Sprint Cup standings and looking good. Even after that troublesome 23rd at California Kes was still second in the points.
Now, though, he's fallen seventh, in a generally dismal stretch: 33rd at Richmond, 15th at Talladega, 32nd at Darlington, and first-out, first lap, in Saturday night's All-Star.
And listening to Keselowski, there doesn't seem to be much fire there right now. Rather too much like a monotonous drone.
Too often burned by NASCAR penalties for speaking his mind? Maybe that's why there's too much 'Stepford Wives' here.
Maybe, like Tony Stewart, Brad Keselowski is just tired of dealing with all NASCAR's hassles.
If so, that's not good for the sport.
All we need is one more Plain Vanilla driver, oh so politically correct.
"A broken driveshaft, that knocked us out," Keselowski said of last weekend.
"It's hard to say exactly why -- whether it was a faulty part or just from fatigue from the qualifying competition."
Brad Keselowski: too much Good Brad these days? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Keselowski hasn't won a tour event since last September (at Dover).
"I'd like to have one, and I feel this is the week to get it done," he says. "We've been very, very fast... and very under the radar because we haven't qualified well or executed in the race."
Mmmm, except for a lap at Talladega Keselowski has shown that much speed on the track, however, since March at Bristol.
"If you sat in my right-side seat, and you rode with me the last two or three 1-1/2-mile tracks, you'd go 'Damn, we're the fastest car out here.'
"Unfortunately we haven't produced results.
"I'm not going to sit here and make excuses, but I know the speed is there, and speed is Building Block One of winning the race.
"Then you have to have execution and luck, and we haven't put two and three together to really build the house it takes to win."
But then it's a long, long season, and it's only May, and Thanksgiving is far off.
Keselowski says here in Sunday's 600-miler, he just wants to play a lot of defense, and get in good position down the stretch. "You have to be able to play defense, and you have to be able to play offense. And in a long 600-mile race, that middle section is essentially time to play defense, and you have to get through that.
"At some point you have to put yourself into that protection mode -- 'Hey, I need to just get through this segment of the race and not lose it right here.' ....which isn't all that much fun for me personally. I'd much rather play offense than defense."
No panic of course.
But this sport is just more fun when Brad Keselowski is on his game and fired up, and giving us things to ponder.
"It's still very early, six months in," he says. "I would certainly like to be in a better position...
"It's hard to really say I'm happy with where I'm at, because I'm not. But I'm not unhappy either.
"I'm a big believer that anything you really want, you need to go out and really reach for it.... and I'm the type of guy that reaches sometimes a little further than what I have for length in my arms."
Things get a little hot for Antron Brown at Pomona a few weeks ago (Photo: NHRA)
It's a curious story -- Top Fuel champion Antron Brown planning to test a NASCAR K&N stocker at the Radford, Va., short-track next Tuesday.
Now Brown is a popular sports figure, five years on the NHRA Top Fuel tour, and the first African-American to win a major American racing championship.
But at 37 he's just now thinking about trying to see if he can turn left at the end of the straight. Not that he can't make the switch, but to put this in some perspective Brown is older than all but two of the drivers in the Sprint Cup series' top-12.
It is an ambitious move. And to be honest, perhaps Brown should have quietly tested already, before making this announcement, a rather high-profile announcement here Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
He does have a plus in this, NASCAR-backed Rev Racing, a part of the sport's minority development program, which is run by Max Siegel.
And Toyota is a large part of this particular effort too.
Siegel, a veteran entertainment industry executive, is perhaps best known in this sport for his time at Dale Earnhardt Inc. For the past year and half Siegel, 48, has been helping run the USA Track & Field organization.
Since NASCAR's Brian France first launched the diversity program in 2004, for women and minorities, it has met with mixed success, in no small part because of the expense of this sport and the difficulty in getting enough sponsorship for relatively unknown drivers.
Kyle Larson, a promising Japanese-American from northern California, is one of the most prominent at the moment. Darrell Wallace Jr. is perhaps the most promising African-American. Larson is 20, Wallace is 19.
Brown: "I always wanted to come out here and see if I actually have the ability to actually turn left.
"I'm just looking forward to this opportunity. Hopefully we can take it to other levels.
"Just take it one step at a time."
Brown, in a twist, says it's a two-way street, this testing -- he's going to give Clint Bowyer a run in his Top Fuel dragster.
Top Fuel champion Antron Brown, will now give NASCAR a whirl (Photo: NHRA)