BRISTOL, Tenn. – Brad Keselowski is the resident historian of the NASCAR Cup Series.
The 35-year-old native of Rochester Hills, Michigan, grew up sweeping the floor at his father’s race shop and emerged from a lengthy dues-paying process to win the Cup series championship in 2012 with the powerful Team Penske operation.
In a phone interview earlier this week, Keselowski reflected on a signature moment in his varied career.
“The Who’s Who of NASCAR have won the Night Race at Bristol, and that gives it some credibility within the sport,” Keselowski said. “It’s like a race of champions.”
Keselowski aced the mental and physical BMS night school exam in 2011.
“If you look at history over the last 20-some years, it’s all champions or guys with 30-plus wins who have won this race,” Keselowski said. “It was one of the biggest wins of my career.”
In 19 career Cup starts at Bristol, Keselowski has recorded five top-10 finishes including victories in both the 2011 Night Race and the 2012 Spring event. But since 2016 he’s failed to finish better than his 16th place effort last August.
“We kind of dominated the track for a couple of years to the point where I felt we had the best car every race,” Keselowski said.
The high speeds and tight turns of BMS were conducive to the aggressive driving style of Keselowski.
“We could get around the bottom of Turns 1 and 2 so well,” he said. “Then, they ground up the track and it became where you have to run the top of the track.”
That $1 million diamond grinding process in the summer of 2012 involved removing 1.5 inches of the existing concrete surface on each corner of the race track. The goal was to promote a more exciting brand of racing.
“We’re not as good running the top as we were the bottom,” Keselowski said. “When they started putting the PJ1 (traction compound) down over the past two years, it’s made the bottom faster again. And when we can run the bottom, we’re good at Bristol.”
Keselowski explained that the magic of the PJ1, or Bristol TrackBite, comes to life on warm days as concrete track surface becomes sticky. That’s good news for driving and fans considering that the temperature is expected to reach 88 degrees today.
Entering tonight’s marquee event, Keselowski ranks sixth in the Cup point standings and has three wins on the season.
“It’s been a good year, although you don’t completely rate a season until it’s over and if you win a championship or not,” Keselowski said. “That’s what makes or breaks the year to me. But where we’re at right now, it’s a solid A-minus.”
Another master course awaits in the form of the famed Night Race.
“There’s a badge of honor with this race,” Keselowski said. “I recently read the quote, ‘That success is rented every day. You can’t buy it. Hard work and effort is the money to pay for it.’ Applying that to racing, it’s such a what have you done for me sport.
“You can win a championship and then be a nobody in a year if you’re not performing. You’re trying to pay your rent as far as being an elite driver. Winning at certain places, including Bristol, that makes you an elite driver.”
That rent-paying routine on the BMS high banks resumes with the 7:30 green flag.