Keselowski scraping Daytona 500 details together

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DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - Wanted: Crew members, new car parts, a strong engine and enough hotel rooms for five people.

The list of things Brian Keselowski needs heading into the Daytona 500 is long and overwhelming. A day after earning a spot in the biggest race of his career, everything Keselowski doesn’t have seemed trivial.

“We’ve already won the Daytona 500,” Keselowski said Friday. “Just getting in was the win.”

A week ago, the journeyman racer had no idea if he could even afford to come to Daytona International Speedway. His bid to make it in NASCAR had left him over $250,000 in debt, and as a two-man team that consists of only Keselowski and his father, they’d only been able to prepare one of the six cars he’s got in his stable.

“I figured I had a credit card somewhere with enough room on it to get us down to Daytona,” he said.

So he packed up a minivan and headed south with his father and Jen Calandrillo, a budding motorsports reporter Keselowski found online and recruited to do some public relations for him while in Daytona. His uncle, Ron, flew from Michigan to complete the crew.

Their low-budget adventure was in stark contrast to the ride his 27-year-old brother, Brad, was enjoying at the other end of Daytona’s vast garage. A budding star and the reigning Nationwide Series champion, Brad has every tool at his disposal with the backing of Penske Racing and sponsor Miller Lite.

There’s been plenty of times Brian’s been jealous of his little brother’s success, and wondered why all those breaks never fell his way. But he’s never been one to ask for help, well, not until Thursday’s critical qualifying race.

Brian needed to be pushed around the track by his brother, he needed that Penske horsepower, and Brad was all too willing to help. He patiently stayed on his older brother’s bumper for most of the 150-mile race, which was the push he needed to claim one of the open spots in Sunday’s Super Bowl of NASCAR.

Brian’s always been adamant of doing his own deal,” Brad said. “It’s hard to explain. He doesn’t really like to get help, well, financial help is obviously a different thing, but he wants to run his own show and I think that’s really important to him.”

In the wake of making the 500, which will be Brian’s first Sprint Cup Series start, he was learning quickly to accept help.

Offers of assistance were coming in faster than he could field them, including potential sponsorship opportunities for Sunday and a call from former NASCAR crew chief Ray Evernham, who offered to pay Keselowski’s tire bill for the entire weekend.

But there were other issues that needed immediate attention. The payday on Sunday _ last place in last year’s race paid $261,424 _ means Keselowski can clear his mounting debt and ensure he can attempt more races. But he needed to find a way to get someone back in North Carolina into his race shop to finish building a car so he’d have something ready to take to Phoenix next week.

“No way, no way we’ll have a car ready for Phoenix,” uncle Ron interrupted. “Impossible.”

Then Ron quickly turned his attention to Calandrillo, insisting that she stay on top of the quest to locate a new front splitter. Brian’s was damaged in the qualifying race, and he’d lent the other one he had with him to Norm Benning, who damaged it in his own wreck.

But Calandrillo was fielding rapid-fire media requests and trying to solve the most pressing issue: Where their five-member team will sleep the rest of Speedweeks.

“We checked out of our rooms on Thursday because nobody thought we were making the race, we thought for sure we were going home,” she said. “We did the friend-of-a-friend knows somebody in Daytona and all crashed at her house last night, but we’re working on something to get us through the rest of the weekend.”

Brian didn’t care, he was willing to sleep in the minivan if needed.

“They don’t exactly give you a pile of money when you make the Daytona 500,” he said. “You’ll get it eventually, but you ain’t getting it tomorrow. I don’t care, though. I don’t know what we’re going to do and I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to me because just making the race has been insane. Crazy. I can’t even comprehend.

“After struggling so long, just trying to make it week-to-week, and now we get to pay our bills and know we can go to another race, this is the first time that’s ever happened to me.”

Keselowski will start 12th in the 500 _ four spots ahead of his brother _ and plans to race with the help of volunteers who have offered to help him prepare the car and pit.

“I’m going to race, I know that,” he said. “How? Those are details. Very minor details compared to what it took to get here.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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