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Brad Keselowski? Hey, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been saying the kid is the real deal, and Sunday he proved it


Talladega winner Brad Keselowski (R) gets congrats from buddy Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern

   Brad Keselowski, the newest member of the NASCAR Sprint Cup tour, is now the newest winner too, and Sunday's surprise was surprising in a number of ways…some quite scary.
   Keselowski says he came into this race, just his fifth on the tour, remembering well what happened to Regan Smith last fall here, in a duel with Tony Stewart. Smith, while passing Stewart for the win in the final mile, went below the out-of-bounds line to avoid hitting Stewart when Stewart moved to block him.
   Keselowski found himself in exactly the same situation in Sunday's final moments….and he stood his ground – the right move perhaps, certainly the winning move, but at a cost.
   "Regan last year did the right thing, he did the smart thing, he did the cool thing," Keselowski said after winning Sunday's Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway. "And he did something that I would be proud of, if I was him.
    "He took the bullet. 
     "To be honest, I didn't.  I wasn't going to take the bullet. 
    "I'm not in a situation in my career where I can afford to take the bullet. And I had nothing to lose.
     "I thought I knew Carl well enough to know that he wouldn't go all the way down (to block). Apparently I did not. 
    "But I knew I had to hold the spot. 
    "I was thinking of Regan Smith more than just when the moment came; I was thinking of him the whole weekend.  Not necessarily specific to winning the race, but running anywhere in the field, whether that's for 12th on the last lap or not.
    "We all know the rules, and we know how to take advantage of them.
    "And I guess we all have to look in the mirror and decide what we are going to do when we are faced with those decisions. 
    "I've said right along that I am not in a position to lift. 
    "I was not going to lose.  I was not going to lift. I was going to hold my ground and consequences be damned."
    That Keselowski was even close to the front to challenge for the win was unexpected. Car owner James Finch and crew chief Marc Reno are well-known independents in the NASCAR world, but they both conceded it's been a while since they got a trophy.
   "Talladega is such a crapshoot," Keselowski said. "You can't expect anything. You can't expect to win, can't expect not to win. 
    "I knew I had to get locked to somebody's rear bumper if I was going to run up to the front…even though you don't know if it's going to work out."
   So he hooked up with Edwards in a two-man draft that surged to the front and past Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. so quickly the two probably didn't even realize the threat. "By the time they saw me coming it was too late," Keselowski said.
    "Carl and I were coming with a full head of steam, and there was no stopping us."
   Then it was time, the final mile, for Keselowski to try to make a move on Edwards for the win. "I made a move up high, hoping that he would block high, and he did…and as his momentum was still carrying him to the right, I came across him to the left, knowing he would not be able to maneuver as fast.
    "I got under him, barely. But enough to have position on him. 
     "And it was up to him whether he wanted to run me down or not. And he did.
    "And I was not going to allow myself to be in that same spot as Regan was last year -- and I just held my ground. 
    "I was here to win.
    "Holding your line was the way to do it.
    "And I'm sorry it caused a wreck, and sorry for those that are hurt.
     "But that's just the situation with the rules…
    "It was a great show, and I hope the fans had fun with it.  This is NASCAR racing at its finest.  This was a great show."
    But the element of danger?
    "There has to be some element of danger into it," Keselowski said. "No different than a football player --  Who doesn't love watching football players hit each other head-on as fast as they can?  I think that's how John Madden made his career, saying 'Boom!'
    "That's what the fans want.  They want contact.
    "If we ran all race without a single lap of contact, everyone would have wrote about how boring a race it was.
   "Instead we ran one of the best races you could ever watch on TV -- with full contact the whole time. 
     "Thankfully no one did get seriously injured.  And I do want to emphasize that I'm thankful for that.
     "And I don't want to wreck anyone…but to say a 'no-contact' sport is fun, I don't buy that. 
     "These guys want to see contact just as much as I want to give it and take it."

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