After failing to defend his 2012 Sprint Cup championship last season—not even making the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup—Brad Keselowski went from his Bad Brad alter ego to Sad Brad.
But after a stellar weekend sweep at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with wins in Saturday's Nationwide Series race and Sunday's Kobalt 400 Sprint Cup race, Keselowski is back to being Bad Brad.
And being Bad Brad means he's Good Brad, too.
Keselowski joins Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick as an early qualifier for this year's revamped Chase for the Sprint Cup. Now that he's got Sunday's win out of the way, he's a Glad Brad, too.
As good as Earnhardt has been this season—with one win in the season-opening Daytona 500 and runner-up finishes at Phoenix last week and Sunday in Las Vegas—Keselowski has been almost equally as good.
The Michigan native now has a win to go along with the pair of third-place finishes he compiled at Daytona and Phoenix.
After the race, team owner Roger Penske expounded upon the meaning of this win for Keselowski:
To me, it was a rewarding weekend realizing the way the rules are, to have a driver that has won a race that really almost qualifies him for the Chase, especially after the tough year he had last year. People might have counted him out, but I think he’s focused. You can see it in his driving.
And with 23 races still to go in the regular season, followed by the 10-race Chase, there should be plenty of chances for Keselowski to add to his win total. He expressed his joy after the race:
It’s very special to get a win early in the year. It’s just such a relief for everyone on the team and myself included to get that win in early and be able to enjoy the races and opportunities that we have, instead of being stressed out about them.
Earnhardt has a sense of urgency to have a year like he's never had before in his Sprint Cup career because this will be his final season with crew chief Steve Letarte.
Keselowski also has a sense of urgency, but he won't be losing crew chief Paul Wolfe anytime soon. Rather, he is bound and determined to prove that 2013 was a fluke season and 2012 was not.
In the aftermath of Keselowski's victory, Wolfe told reporters the lengths to which the driver is willing to go to accomplish that goal:
He’s dedicated, he wants to be the best out there and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to do that. Sometimes it can wear you down, there’s no doubt about that. He was on me hard over the offseason, but I know he’s just passionate about this sport and being the best.
Indeed, Keselowski is as determined as he's ever been in his short Cup career to prove that if not just yet, he wants to soon belong in the same conversation as multiple title winners like Jimmie Johnson (six championships), Jeff Gordon (four) and Tony Stewart (three).
"It’s not fun, that’s for sure," Keselowski said when asked about falling short of the Chase last season.
But as good as this season has started off, Keselowski hasn't forgotten how good last season also began. In the first four races of 2013, he finished fourth, fourth, third and third (the last race putting him atop the Sprint Cup standings for one week).
It was all downhill from there, ultimately leading to Keselowski missing the Chase.
So as happy as he is to have a win this early—he won just one race last year, the 31st of the season at Charlotte—Keselowski hasn't forgotten how good fortune can turn fickle in a rather short time like it did last season:
Last year we started off with, I can’t remember, a fourth, a third and a third and second (actually fourth), but we didn’t get a win. Any one of those first five or six races we easily could have won, but we just didn’t get any racing luck and then in the middle of the year we had every bad racing break.
Today we caught a little bit of racing luck and we were in position to make the most of it. You can catch racing luck and be running 10th and it doesn’t really mean anything. But when you’re running in the top two or three like we have been the last few weeks, you catch a little small break and you’re there to exploit it and get a win.
Sometimes you catch breaks, sometimes you make them happen, but today we were in a spot either way to capitalize on it.
Wolfe agreed, adding:
We’ve shown that the first three weeks and this win here helps give everybody a little confidence that we can get back on top where we want to be and where we were in 2012, so a lot of hard work ahead of us, but a huge win today.
Given his performances in the first three races of the season, Keselowski appears to be rounding into his 2012 form.
All quotes were provided via post-race transcript from Ford Racing media relations.