Keselowski's Big Tweet

February 12, 2013

The Daytona 500 is the Great American Race. The winner of NASCAR's season-opening and most prestigious event is recognized as its champion forever. The winning driver will be featured in media interviews and will be lauded for weeks.

How, then, did a driver that finished 32nd in last year's Daytona 500 steal the show?

If the NASCAR community doubted the power of Twitter before the 2012 Daytona 500, no one questioned it after the checkered flag fell. Who knew a picture could mean so much? And who would have guessed that it could create conversation all across the country?

"I just asked myself, ‘If I was a fan, what would I want to see?'"

That was the question NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and Penske Racing driver Brad Keselowski posed to himself moments before snapping one of the most famous pictures in NASCAR history. It wasn't a picturesque moment mind you. Juan Pablo Montoya's car had just crashed into a jet dryer during the 54th Running of the Daytona 500. The aftermath caused an enormous fireball that forced a stoppage of the racing action for two hours in a race that had already been delayed twice.

The 2012 Daytona 500 was actually held on Monday, February 27th instead of its scheduled Sunday date of February 26th. Persistent rain showers pushed the race into a primetime slot on Monday night for the first time in its history.

Once the cars were stopped on the backstretch following Montoya's accident, Keselowski pulled out his iPhone and snapped a photo of what he saw in front of him. He quickly posted it to Twitter - the social networking platform that he had long embraced - and his 65,000 followers.

Simple enough.

What followed was a social media phenomenon in its full, real-time glory. Within minutes, as Twitter and the live FOX TV broadcast worked in concert, the fact that Keselowski was tweeting from "the playing field" was all anyone related to the sport was talking about. By the end of the race, Keselowski's foresight resulted in a tripling of his Twitter followers.

One month later after his win in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Keselowski became the first driver to tweet a picture from Victory Lane. This further cemented his status as the face of NASCAR within the social media universe. He can be partially credited with helping NASCAR secure the first partnership between Twitter and a professional sports league.

"What drew me to Twitter was the one-on-one interaction you have with your fans," said Keselowski. "I really use it as my fan club. As it has grown there are challenges to keeping up with it, but it's a labor of love."

"I have one simple commandment when it comes to Twitter," continued NASCAR's reigning champ. "I stay authentic to myself. That sounds pretty basic - and it is - but you can get yourself into trouble when you try to be something you're not."

This seminal moment began what was truly a dream season for Keselowski as he captured the first Cup title for himself, as well as the first for legendary team owner Roger Penske. As the one-year anniversary of that famous tweet approaches, what will Keselowski - who now has over 350,000 followers - do for an encore?

"You'll have to tune in to find out," said Keselowski. "One of the things I love about Twitter is that you never know what might happen next. Just when you think you've seen it all, someone comes up with a new use for it."

"I will, however, go out on a limb and say that no one will run into a jet dryer this year."