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Keselowski gears up for road test at Watkins Glen

It may have been Brad Keselowski’s first time in town, but it didn’t take him long to learn how to connect with Buffalonians.

Keselowski, a 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, was in Buffalo visiting Seneca Niagara Casino and the Ford Motor Co.’s Buffalo Stamping Plant on Thursday. In three weeks, he’ll be in Central New York to race in the 2015 Cheez-It 355 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series weekend at Watkins Glen International, from Aug. 6-9.

To be a race car driver, you have to be versatile, according to Keselowski. And to draw a comparison, he used a popular name in the area: Jim Kelly.

“People ask me about what it means or what are the struggles of being a race car driver and I always relate it back to football,” said Keselowski, a Detroit native and admitted Lions fan. “If you took Jim Kelly and said ‘Today you’re going to line up at quarterback, the next week you are gonna line up at wide receiver, the week after that, tight end, and then the week after that you line up at safety,’ he’d look at you and say, ‘Well, I play quarterback.’

“Nah, you’re a football player. You should be able to play all four positions.”

Keselowski’s spot as the driver may never change, but the different styles of tracks present new challenges. Some raceways have a large oval layout, others are smaller. Some are more intermediate tracks and others run on road courses.

“Those are the four distinctly different race tracks that have four distinctly different styles of racing, much like four different positions on the football field,” Keselowski said.

Watkins Glen has the feel of a road course, according to Keselowski. He said it has “perhaps the most extreme difference” of the different styles of tracks.

“It would be like lining Jim Kelly up at safety and saying, ‘OK, you’re playing safety today’ and that’s how we feel as race car drivers when we come here,” Keselowski said. “We are all a little out of our element, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s a new challenge and it’s part of the style we have at NASCAR of rewarding versatility as a driver and if you can win here at a track like Watkins Glen, you’ve really earned it.”

Keselowski is still trying to earn that first victory at Watkins Glen. He’s finished in second for three consecutive years, and he said that motivates him “a lot” to take first. Also, his crew chief, Paul Wolfe, is from Milford, a small town to the northeast of Watkins Glen, and Keselowski said Wolfe “puts a lot of pride and effort into this race.”

The 31-year-old Keselowski, who will race in this weekend’s 5-Hour Energy 30 in New Hampshire, is doing the only job he’s envisioned since he was a kid. His father, Bob, was a race car driver and Keselowski always wanted to do the same.

“I came from a racing family and I appreciate the history of the sport, what it takes to be successful day to day,” Keselowski said. “My dad has always been one of the hardest working people I ever met, makes me feel lazy no matter what I do because of that, but I think it shaped me a lot of ways.”

He’s seen NASCAR evolve “dramatically” in areas like finance and marketing. But there’s one thing he knows will never change.

“I think it’s pretty much changed in every aspect besides the goal of being the first to the finish line,” Keselowski said.

He hopes his luck will be yet another change at Watkins Glen.