MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
The Daytona 500, the first big race of the NASCAR season, is this weekend, and Danica Patrick has already grabbed headlines becoming the first female driver to win pole position in NASCAR's top series. The Daytona 500 will also be the first chance for the sport's brash, young champion to defend his title. Brad Keselowski is outspoken, funny, able to connect with old-school fans and young people. From member station WFAE, Michael Tomsic has this profile.
MICHAEL TOMSIC, BYLINE: If you don't follow NASCAR closely, this video may have been how you were introduced last fall to Brad Keselowski.
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KEVIN CONNORS: Sprint Cup champion joins us now...
TOMSIC: An ESPN anchor introduces Keselowksi, who's holding a massive glass of foamy beer and standing above a huge crowd after he won the championship.
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CONNORS: You just did it. What's it like?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Pretty damn awesome. I've got a little buzz going here. I've been drinking for a little bit. But it's been pretty good, man. I can't lie.
TOMSIC: Keselowski drinks from his giant beer throughout the interview. The video became an Internet sensation, and Keselowki's racing team started selling replicas of the 15-inch tall beer glass. A few months later, that interview still comes up anytime Keselowski is near a microphone.
KESELOWSKI: Those moments, soaking them in and enjoying success as a team are always a lot of fun, and they're always encouraged with beverages.
TOMSIC: Keselowski doesn't see it as a big deal. He was celebrating, so of course he had a few beers. The former president of the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Humpy Wheeler, says that's a mentality that a lot of NASCAR fans will raise a glass to.
HUMPY WHEELER: That's what they are. You know, the guy that drives a truck, when he gets through work, he goes and he has a few beers. A dockworker, he's just going to go have a few beers. That's what he does.
TOMSIC: But not as many of those blue-collar fans have been coming out to watch in person the past few years. At Bristol and Talladega, two of the premier tracks, attendance is down substantially. The president of the Texas Motor Speedway, Eddie Gossage, says Keselowski can help fill the stands. Sure, beer antics are part of that, but he says the 29-year-old is also key to the sport's future because of how he uses social media.
EDDIE GOSSAGE: I follow Brad Keselowski on Twitter because he teaches me how to tweet just by following him.
TOMSIC: Keselowski is candid, funny and takes fans behind the scenes on his Twitter account, which has about 360,000 followers. That doesn't mean he has the biggest fan base, but Gossage says Keselowski is creating a new blueprint to reach out to people.
GOSSAGE: I think Brad Keselwoski is a great champion, a young guy that does things in a young way, and he's teaching all of us.
TOMSIC: But Keselowski is also a long-time student of NASCAR. His dad and uncle both raced, and he grew up working on the family cars. At age 14, he started racing. And now, he drives with old-school grit, like last season at the Texas Motor Speedway. Keselowski and five-time champion Jimmie Johnson were battling for the win, and Keselowski banged into the side of Johnson.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Wow.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: He is going at it for the race lead. The top two in the championship, clanging off each other.
TOMSIC: Johnson still won the race, but that move drew criticism from some drivers. One even said Keselowski had a death wish. But Humpy Wheeler says there's nothing wrong with aggressive driving. Fans love it.
WHEELER: He's not afraid to get in there and bang fenders when he has to, and that's the type of driver that appeals to the people that go into the grandstand or the people that are watching on TV.
TOMSIC: Or here's how Keselowski puts it: he says NASCAR is getting back to the core of what it stands for, and it's good for everybody. For NPR News, I'm Michael Tomsic in Charlotte.