NASCAR recently wrapped up its postseason party, taking the celebration to Las Vegas and all the lights, crowds and mayhem that Sin City has to offer.
Much like an inauguration or a coronation, the Champion's Week festivities include a variety of sponsor events, award dinners, concerts, interviews and fan opportunities, culminated by the NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards Gala.
In the center of the spotlight was new Sprint Cup Champion, Brad Keselowski. The 28-year old, in just his third Sprint Cup season, did something that no Penske driver had been able to do: capture the top title for one of racing's most storied programs.
Along the way, Keselowski ruffled more than a few feathers, earning a reputation for driving aggressively and speaking his mind. He lacks the glamour and polish of a Jimmy Johnson and the experience of a Tony Stewart, but he makes up for those shortcomings with talent and determination.
Those qualities, along with a great car and some good luck in the form of no blown tires or blown engines all season, landed Keselowski in the victory lane five times in 2012 and at the champion's podium during the sport's ultimate awards ceremony.
While not necessarily showing excessive respect for his fellow drivers through his first few seasons, Keselowski revealed his more humble side during his unscripted acceptance speech in front of a black tie crowd of more than 1,000.
"I look back through the Chase races and I'll never forget Texas and racing with you, Jimmy [Johnson] that was one of the proudest moments of my career," he said. "I can't believe I was racing against a five-time championyou made me earn it, and I loved every minute of it."
Some might describe the former Nationwide Series Champ as rough-around-the-edges, perhaps with a bit of old-time racing personality. In fact, Keselowski, who raced for JR Motorsports in NNS, seemed most in awe of his place in NASCAR history in relation to the Intimidator himself.
"It didn't really hit me until I saw the banner up there with all of the names," he said. "I can't believe my name is somewhere near Dale Earnhardt'sI don't deserve that. I feel very proud and very honored."
And it is perhaps that place in history that will make Keselowski a more respectful competitor, and an increasingly popular driver among fans. During those keynote remarks, he pledged to be a leader in the sport in coming years. He also acknowledged drivers who give back to the community, while at the same time not taking himself too seriously.
"At the end of the day, we're just driving cars in circles, so we're not doing a lot of miracle-working, but there are some great personalities in this sport and a lot of charitable acts."
Time will tell exactly what kind of champion Keselowski will become, but he seems to be on the right track.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.