SPARTA, Ky. -- Two months after winning the 2012 Sprint Cup Series title, Brad Keselowski talked about how he'd motivate himself going forward. Sure he'd made the long journey from underfunded driver struggling to earn a chance at NASCAR's highest levels to champion, but in his eyes, the journey was just beginning.
Instead of considering himself the best of the bunch entering a 2013 season that would ultimately humble him to the core, Keselowski looked at the list of Cup champions and saw himself at the bottom. He was among the many drivers with one title, a mark of greatness, but one that paled compared to even the multi-time champions not named Petty, Earnhardt or Johnson.
While he may never reach that lofty level -- and you can't help but wonder if anyone else will ever challenge the big three -- just one title will never satisfy a 30-year-old who joked early Sunday morning that his sense of urgency is due to a "midlife crisis."
If only every midlife crisis could be sparked by leading 199 of 267 laps en route to a dominating victory at Kentucky Speedway, like this one apparently was. Only slow pits stops that allowed Team Penske teammate Joey Logano to grab the lead away three times under caution kept his laps-led total from being even higher.
And a caution just as Kyle Busch was pitting set the stage for what passed as drama on a muggy evening in front of a sparse crowd. Busch was one of four in the pits when the caution waved for Aric Almirola's accident on Lap 215, so Keselowski took the resulting restart in sixth.
Busch built a lead of over two seconds before his car's handling went away while dealing with lapped traffic. Keselowski steadily marched to the front, taking the lead with 20 laps to go and never looking back. The win all but assures him a berth in the Chase, which he missed last year -- further sparking his sense of urgency.
"I don't want to win one championship and that be it for my career. I'm not going to be happy with that," Keselowski said in a winner's interview delayed by a broken champagne bottle that sent him to the infield care center for four stitches. "And I want to win another championship, but I don't want it to be five or 10 years from now. I don't want to be a guy that contends for a championship every three or four years, I want to do it each and every year, and I know that opportunity is here, and it's present, and I want to make the most of it, and I'm not afraid to communicate that.
"I think when it comes to goals, when it comes to dreams and visions, you have to share them if you want them to become a reality. I think my team has that same goal and that same vision. But I think we want to stay on that same page, and I want them to know that I care and that I'm focused on it."
Keselowski's passion has never been an issue; if anything, he may have realized last year that his passion for the sport could be a detriment after his visions for making the sport better ran afoul of NASCAR's hierarchy. Speaking his mind may have been a distraction, one that, combined with Fords that were less than stellar, left him celebrating just a late-season win at Charlotte as the Chase went on without him.
Staying under the radar when it comes to voicing his opinions, Keselowski's focus has been squarely on the track this season. He's had other chances at a second victory, most notably three weeks ago at Pocono, where a piece of debris led to an overheating car and a misbegotten attempt to dislodge the debris that left him a frustrated runner-up to Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Those near misses sparked thoughts of doubt about when a win would come, but he emphatically put them to rest.
On a night when Hendrick Motorsports again put all four of its cars in the top 10, and when solid runs by Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth and Richard Childress Racing's Ryan Newman left those organizations hopeful that better times are around the corner, the focus was squarely on Team Penske.
Logano led 37 laps, and if it weren't for that caution that put Busch in the lead, Team Penske may have led all 267 laps. Keselowski still feels Hendrick is the dominant organization, but likes where his group is sitting.
With nine races to go before the Chase, Keselowski thinks most organizations have only small gains left to be made in terms of performance. If that's the case, and the likes of JGR and RCR can't up the ante, the title could come down to Penske versus Hendrick, as was the case when Keselowski beat Jimmie Johnson in 2012.
"Certainly, we're not content," Keselowski said. "We had a great night tonight, led a lot of laps and won the race, but the reality is that Hendrick cars had won [five straight on ovals], and they're going to continue to be the cars to beat. So we have to keep pushing, as well.
"This is certainly a good night, and it harkens back some memories of 2012, which I'm very fond of. Last year was a very humbling year for us, so I think I probably appreciate it even more. I appreciate the opportunity to have races like this and opportunities to run for a championship."
Often known for evoking laughter from the media with his candid answers, Keselowski got the hardest laugh of the night when crew chief Paul Wolfe was asked if having a driver like Keselowski made his life less stressful when things go wrong.
Known for always challenging his team to be better, Keselowski couldn't await Wolfe's response.
"How much less stressful do I make your life, Paul?" Keselowski asked.
"Less stressful, yeah," Wolfe says with a laugh. "I think it's just the opposite. When you know you have the tools and resources and then you have a driver the caliber of Brad, I think it just puts more pressure on you, knowing that you have to perform well.
"To say that it's less pressure, I don't necessarily look at that as the case for sure."
Keselowski's biggest challenge of the night came in Victory Lane, when he was trying to open a bottle of champagne while simultaneously shaking it. The bottle hit the corner of the podium, breaking and drawing plenty of blood.
"It's not that bad," was Keselowski's first thought. "... [Then] I shook [my hand] a couple times and there was blood flying everywhere. I thought, 'This is pretty bad.' And then I started kind of walking through my mind [asking], 'Is this for real?' There really wasn't a much more intelligent thought than that."
Non-intelligent thoughts are rare from the introspective Keselowski, who won't be satisfied until he's hoisting the Sprint Cup for a second time. Whenever it comes, he might even skip the champagne.
"I should have stuck with beer," Keselowski said, adeptly working in a plug for his sponsor in the process.
Outside of Victory Lane, it was as flawless an evening for a driver always wanting more.