By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Brad Keselowski’s NASCAR Cup Series resume is full of accolades, from a championship in 2012 to victories in nearly all of the marquee races on the circuit, but despite all that, one race has eluded him over the years – the Daytona 500.
Heading into the 2021 season and preparing to make his 12th start in the Great American Race, Keselowski is more than ready to finally get his chance to hoist the Harley J. Earl trophy.
“It’s definitely the one big box I don’t have checked,” Keselowski said. “I’ve got the championship. I’ve won every other major but Daytona. The only other person that can claim that actively right now is Kevin Harvick and I want to join that club.
“It’s a big club to be in – to have all the majors and to have a championship. I know I’m right there and I want to make it happen and feel like I’ve done a lot of the right things to make it happen. I haven’t been perfect, but it’s certainly part of the source of frustration, for sure.”
Only once has Keselowski visited Daytona’s victory lane in the Cup Series, with a win in the 2016 summer race, but he has found no such luck when it comes to the Daytona 500.
In his previous 11 starts, the lone bright spot on Keselowski’s resume in the season opener came in 2013 and 2014, with finishes of fourth and third, respectively. Aside from that two-year stretch, he has failed to crack the top-10 in any of his other nine starts, with a half-dozen of those resulting in early retirements due to crashes or engine failures.
“My frustration level is pretty extreme, to be quite honest with you,” Keselowski said. “I feel like I’ve made some mistakes in that race, no doubt, but the last few years specifically I’ve ran really, really strong races and just didn’t have the ability to dictate my own fate. I think that’s what you want. You want the ability to know that when you drive a race car you’re making a difference and that it matters, and that hasn’t played out the last few years, which is frustrating, but I know eventually it will and when that moment happens we need to capitalize.”
Despite the frustrating run of luck he has had at Daytona, the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford knows how important it is to kick off the season with success in Florida.
“It’s kind of like having your final exam on the first day of school,” Keselowski said. “It’s a big moment for our sport. It’s very much inverse to most other sports, where the biggest game is at the end of the year rather than at the start of the year, but I think it’s one of the things that makes our sport unique is to have the biggest race at the start of the year the first race of the season…It’s a very unique race weekend as compared to any other weekend, and obviously very special with respect to the success you have at Daytona can carry with you forever.
“If you put up a great race at Daytona it can make-or-break your year, and we certainly know that.”
Looking past Daytona, the 2021 season marks the second year for Keselowski and crew chief Jeremy Bullins, with the duo ready to build on the success they showed last season and make another run at the championship.
Keselowski was able to bank four wins en route to securing a spot in the Championship 4 at Phoenix, where he gave it his best shot, but came up just short, finishing second in the race and the championship behind eventual champion Chase Elliott.
“Confidence is certainly very high right now. I’m inspired,” Keselowski said of carrying the momentum from last season into this season. “I feel really good about the team I have and their work ethic has been tremendous. Just hungry. I don’t know if that’s changed. The hunger hasn’t changed. The confidence goes up and down, there’s no doubt, and right now the confidence is pretty high. Ultimately, it depends on the results we put up on the scoreboard, not our confidence, but we feel pretty good about it right now, for sure.”