Brad Keselowski spent last year in a competition with Jimmie Johnson.
This year, he’s in competition with history.
“Our team’s motivation is to be able to become an elite team and somewhat of a dynasty,” said Keselowski, who out-pointed Johnson over the last three races last year to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. “In order to have a chance to do that, you have to win more than one.
“We don’t want to be a one-and-done team.”
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Keselowski takes another step in his competition with history Saturday night when the Sprint Cup Series visits Texas Motor Speedway for the NRA 500.
“I’m reminded of this quote by Mark Martin when he talked about winning his first race,” Keselowski said before last week’s race at Martinsville Speedway. “He talked about one is great, but you haven’t really made it until you’ve won two. That was race wins, but I feel very similar about that as it pertains to championships. And I think a lot of people on my team feel that way, and that’s our motivation.”
Keselowski could make another kind of history. Last year, he won the championship in a Dodge. This year, he’s in a Ford. Cale Yarborough is the last driver to win back-to-back championships in different makes, in a Chevy in 1977 and an Oldsmobile in 1978.
“That’s not to take anything away from winning one, because that’s a very special accomplishment,” Keselowski said. “But it sure would feel irresponsible to give up on it and not have that drive. I think, if anything, winning a championship makes us more dangerous because it gives us that much more confidence and an ability to self-motivate.”
But there is a long way to go. Keselowski ranks second in the driver standings as he comes to Fort Worth’s 1.5-mile track, where until last November’s race, he had never finished higher than 14th.
Much can happen between now and November, when the series returns to TMS for its dash to the finish of the Chase. NASCAR veterans have seen it.
“There’s a lot of drivers that race their entire careers, and teams that can’t achieve that,” said veteran Ford owner Jack Roush, who won championships with former drivers Kurt Busch in 2003 and Matt Kenseth in 2004. “It took me so long to win one championship, I never thought I’d ever win a championship. But they’ve really got good people with good resources. It takes the right combination of perseverance, luck and opportunity and really having the right relationship with the other drivers and other teams that will let you have your chance at the sunlight on your day when you’ve got a really good car.”
Roush does not discount Keselowski’s chance at a repeat.
“The Penske team did a nice job with him last year,” Roush said. “He made good decisions on the race track, and if he does that again, I think the Ford stuff, the Ford equipment and the Ford support will be at least as good as Dodge.”
So far, so good. Keselowski started the year with four consecutive top-5s, slipped to 23rd in California, then rallied for sixth last weekend in Martinsville.
“We just have more speed,” he said. “I think our team is one of the best in the garage at executing a race, whether it be strategy or — knock on wood — equipment failures and so forth. My guys do a great job with that, and then from there it’s just a matter of having speed and me not screwing it up. We’ve had a little bit more speed at this time than we’ve ever had and that’s very encouraging, and I think if we can find a little bit more, we could go on a tear and win a bunch of races.
“Everything in this sport is based around speed. That’s your basic building block and from there you have to execute and do all those other things right. We’ve had great execution as a team for the last 16-18 months. Give us some speed and look out.”
Look out for No. 2.