CONCORD, N.C. — Every athlete or coach who has dogged the media would be wise to chat with Brad Keselowski for a few minutes.
He would tell them the obvious: It's easier to make honey with reporters than to throw sour grapes at them. Metaphorically speaking, the fruits of those efforts are usually rewarded.
Keselowski's opening comments during the NASCAR Media Tour last week began with a nice shout-out to the media. It was honest and sincere, much like the kind words that Keselowski used in honoring U.S. troops, including 30 who were killed fighting insurgents in Afghanistan last August.
"I might not be feeling great, but those are the guys who are really making sacrifices," Keselowski said after winning the Sprint Cup race at Pocono with a broken left ankle. "We're just driving race cars for a living. We're not curing cancer or saving the world like those guys are."
That said, Keselowski is doing a fine job driving race cars for a living. He finished fifth in points last season, with three victories and 10 top-5s. The prospects for 2012 are more promising because Keselowski is now "The Man" at Penske Racing.
He is no longer in the shadow of Kurt Busch, bounced from the team for the cumulative effects of boorish behavior, including a testy relationship with his team and a tirade against a TV reporter in the season finale at Homestead.
No worries. Now Keselowski is the face of the Penske franchise, which brings in AJ Allmendinger for its Cup program. Allmendinger is no ordinary fill-in, recently leading the Michael Shank Racing team to victory in the 24 Hours of Daytona.
As for Keselowski, he's no longer "Bad Brad" as he was called in his friskier days. Nor is he the kid that Denny Hamlin once labeled a "complete moron" for his aggressive driving.
Keselowski has been a great get for Penske Racing since joining the team in 2010. It was a missed opportunity for NASCAR giant Hendrick Motorsports, which gave Keselowski a few fill-in rides but dawdled when it came time to offer something more substantive.
In swept Penske.
"When I told 'em you were going to be great, you are great," Penske told Keselowski during the meet-and-greet with reporters.
Keselowski had an even better line: "We don't have any baby news or girls in heels," he said, a reference to Kevin Harvick announcing that he was a father-to-be and the ubiquitous presence of GoDaddy media star Danica Patrick.
Then he went on to elaborate on the state of Penske Racing for 2012:
"We are making huge gains and I'm proud to be a part of it."