McCarter: Keselowski enjoys the 'chess match' that is Talladega

McCarter: Keselowski enjoys the 'chess match' that is Talladega

May 4th, 2017 by Mark McCarter in Sports - Nascar

Brad Keselowski, right, and Denny Hamlin wave to the crowd during driver introductions before this past Sunday's race at Richmond International Raceway.

Photo by Steve Helber

The International Motorsports Hall of Fame had long closed for the day, though a large gaggle of gussied-up drivers and patrons were elsewhere in the facility for a banquet.

After that dinner four years ago this week, the Talladega Superspeedway folks opened the Hall of Fame doors for a private tour for a tuxedo-wearing visitor who is quite the NASCAR history nerd — Brad Keselowski.

Keselowski has, if you'll forgive a historic pop culture reference, a little bit of Eddie Haskell in him. Though occasionally edgy, he tends toward politeness and seems earnest. Among the younger generation of drivers, he holds as much or more reverence to the sport's past as anyone. Hence the after-hours tour he requested, and for which I was invited to tag along.

"How do we not know where we're going if we don't know where we've been?" he told me that night.

Mark McCarter

Mark McCarter

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Keselowski also holds in high regard the speedway that shares property with the hall. He is a four-time winner at Talladega, which hosts the Cup Series' GEICO 500 on Sunday. Keselowski has won two of the past five, and teammate Joey Logano has won twice in that span.

(What is it with Team Penske and Alabama tracks? That organization has won five of eight IndyCar races at nearby Barber Motorsports Park.)

This week, Keselowski wrote something of an ode to Talladega Superspeedway for NASCAR News Service, as told to writer Reid Spencer:

"You've still got to get over the wrecks and the big packs and all those things you know you're susceptible to. You still have to get over that, and that's a tough challenge, but the moves to me are like a game of chess, and I enjoy that game.

"Learning the moves is like anything else in life. How do you learn to ride a bicycle? Sometimes you bust your —. Sometimes you learn by watching somebody else and what they can do. What's interesting about Talladega is that it seems like every year — or maybe every three or four years — a new move comes out that no one has ever thought of, no one has executed before

"That's what made Dale (Earnhardt) so special there. He was always creating the new moves. Because of that, he was always a step ahead. I think that continues to happen now. The great racers at Talladega are the ones that can innovate and create a new move that nobody knows how to defend."

Interestingly, Kyle Busch made a similar analogy to chess via a news release: "The physical demand isn't that big of a deal. You can run around there all day long and not break a sweat, really. Once you get down into the nitty gritty of the race and try to play the chess game at the end of the race, you've got to really pick and choose your spots and think all the time if you go here and team up with this guy. It really wears on you a little bit, mentally."

There is an old saying about "still playing checkers while they're playing chess."

History tells us checkers players don't do very well at Talladega.

» Last race: Logano won the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway for his first victory of 2017.

» Next race: GEICO 500, Talladega Superspeedway, 2 p.m. EDT Sunday, Fox.

» Pick to win: Keselowski.

» Pit notes: Good thoughts going out to a good guy: John Andretti, 54, has Stage 4 colon cancer, according to reports out of Indianapolis. Richmond, once a hot ticket and a fun place to watch a race (especially at night), couldn't fill its 60,000 seats last Sunday. The race drew only 4.4 million TV viewers. The refs were out in full force again at Richmond: 12 penalties issued, some of them crippling. Three crashes and five finishes in the 30s is not the way Dale Earnhardt Jr. would envision his final season.

» Fast Five: 1. Kyle Larson. 2. Logano. 3. Keselowski. 4. Jimmie Johnson. 5. Martin Truex Jr.

» What they're saying: "You always think you've found the next move, but you never know until the race is over, and it either worked or it didn't. But I can't tell you what it is — it's a trade secret." — Keselowski

Contact Mark McCarter at markfmccarter@gmail.com.

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