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Keselowski toughs it out; Third-generation racer finding his way on track

WATKINS GLEN -- His left racing shoe untied to ease the pressure on his sore ankle, Brad Keselowski limped ever-so-slightly out of the No. 2 Penske Racing hauler and plopped down in a director's chair.

Another day at the track was over, but the pain from his broken ankle and bruised back wasn't getting any better.

Not after two sessions of NASCAR Cup practice over the grueling, 11-turn road course at Watkins Glen.

"I'm here and driving, so it can't be too bad, right?" Keselowski said with a pained smile. "It feels better, but it definitely doesn't feel much better than last weekend. Driving is obviously hell on it, but we're going to tough it out. I can make it work."

Keselowski was injured during a testing session two weeks ago when the brakes on his No. 2 Dodge failed and he slammed head-on into a wall at Road Atlanta that did not have an energy-absorbing barrier. Data showed he was traveling about 100 mph at impact.

Since then, he's held off nemesis Kyle Busch to win at Pocono and finished second at Watkins Glen International on Monday -- one spot ahead of Busch and just behind winner Marcos Ambrose in a thrilling green-white-checkered finish.

If not for a bump from Ambrose, one of the best road racers in NASCAR, that nudged him aside at the end of the race, Keselowski would have had his third win of the season on a track where he was making just his second Cup start.

"It shows how dedicated he is," crew chief Paul Wolfe said. "I don't think he's going to let anybody down."

A year ago, Keselowski, a third-generation racer, was well on his way to winning the Nationwide Series title. But he was struggling mightily in his first full season in Cup, battling to earn the respect of his fellow drivers.

That's all changed this season.

"I think I'm slowly becoming more competitive, and as you become more competitive you get more respect from your competitors and things just get easier," Keselowski said. "You don't have to fight so many different things. The biggest thing overall is just time.

"I'm getting more respect. I don't know how to quantify that, but I just know that things are getting easier. That makes you look a lot better when things get easier."

Excelling while driving hurt the last two races made the 27-year-old Keselowski seem like a throwback, if his actions on track already hadn't.

"Brad came in a little too worried about all that, concerned that he wasn't going to be getting it [respect], and I think that bothered him," said 18-year Cup veteran Jeff Burton. "Some people come in and don't even worry about it. You know at some point you're going to have to have everybody's respect, but you can't lose sleep over it.

"You've got to go and be who you are. You've got to race the way you know to race. You've got to be true to who you are, and you have to understand that there's consequences to that, good and bad."

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