MONTREAL (AP) - Brad Keselowski knows he doesn't have that yellow rookie stripe on the back of his No. 12 Dodge anymore.
Just don't blame him if he occasionally checks to make sure before he jumps behind the wheel for Roger Penske to race against the likes of Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and the other elite drivers on NASCAR's Sprint Cup circuit.
While Gordon can wreck a bunch of cars with aggressive driving on the road course at Sonoma, the threatened retaliation never comes against the four-time Cup champion. Johnson can trigger a big crash at Talladega with a mistake, and all the defending four-time champ has to do is apologize and it's all but forgotten.
Not so with Keselowski, a third-generation racer in his first full season at NASCAR's top level, and he thinks he knows why.
``I haven't got it all figured out, but there's a little bit of a boys-only club going on there, and over time we all make our way into it if you just keep knocking on the door,'' Keselowski said. ``When you're knocking on the door, it's not a lot of fun and sometimes you get kicked back out of the house. I'm trying to make my way in it, and you're not going to get in there by being a pushover.''
His father, the 1989 ARCA champion, sees his son's treatment as a form of hazing.
``It seems like you're a kid going to high school and you've got to take your initiations ... to make them happy,'' Bob Keselowski said.
Keselowski has repeatedly made it clear he's no pushover. His first knock on that imaginary door came at Talladega Superspeedway last year when he pushed Edwards toward the finish line and didn't lift when Edwards tried to block his pass for the win. Edwards went airborne, upside down, sheet metal spewing in his wake as his car sailed into the safety fence in a scary crash, while Keselowski grabbed his first Cup victory in only his fifth start in NASCAR's top series.
A feud was born.
After Keselowski collided again with Edwards early in the March race at Atlanta, Edwards retaliated by intentionally wrecking Keselowski, sending him airborne.
Now, they're on probation for the remainder of the season because of a frightening accident on the last lap of a Nationwide race at Gateway International Raceway in mid-July. Edwards intentionally drove into the back of Keselowski on the last lap seconds after Keselowski had made contact in a pass for the lead. Edwards won the race, leaving Keselowski's Dodge in tatters in a chain-reaction crash that included nine other cars.
``I talked to Brad the other day. I said, 'Why does everybody think they owe you a payback?' `` said Bob Keselowski, who had to fight back his emotions at Gateway during a postrace television interview. ``I look back at the racing and I don't know why they feel Brad has something coming.''
Keselowski also angered Busch in the Nationwide race at Bristol two weeks ago while the two were racing for the lead. Busch intentionally spun him and went on to win the race. Keselowski finished 14th.
Busch celebrated that win by mockingly rubbing his eyes like a crying baby and was greeted with a chorus of boos. Keselowski promised revenge over the public address system and had some choice words for Busch the next day during driver introductions for the Cup race.
``There's always been give and take in the sport. I don't mind give and take, but you have to know when give and take makes sense,''' Keselowski said. ``In that same race when Kyle and I had a run-in, I let him go twice when he moved me up the racetrack. It was because of that that I didn't let him go the third time.
``It's like, 'Well, Brad never gives.' I gave and I was tired of giving. There was no more give left in me. The bank was dry.''
Probation seems to be having a positive effect on Edwards and Keselowski. They joked about each other in separate media sessions at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve before Sunday's Nationwide race and had no run-ins on the track.
``On the racetrack, I think we're better,'' Edwards said. ``All of our issues have just been on the racetrack. I think I see a little bit more respect there, but time will tell.''
With the Nationwide season winding down, Keselowski, barring a total collapse, is closing in on his first NASCAR title. Edwards, the 2007 series champion, is 365 points behind him in second place with 10 races remaining.
``As a person, I think it gives credibility to my career,'' Keselowski said. ``It will certainly give me some more confidence. The confidence bank goes up and down. There's deposits and withdrawals.''
``He'll be excited, and he should be because he accomplished something really nice,'' NASCAR driver and TV commentator Kenny Wallace said. ``To me, it's not Brad trying to win the championship, it's Brad against Carl. I think these guys take advantage of each other. Every once in a while they say, 'You're not going to do that to me. I'm going to get you back.' And then, all of a sudden, it becomes part of the show.
``I will tell you this. What Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch are doing for this sport right now, they should be paid for it. It's awesome.''
While Keselowski has blossomed in NASCAR's second-tier series, he's struggled in Cup. His average start this year is 23.2 and his average finish 22.5. He started ninth and finished a season-best 12th at Darlington, matching his finish at Martinsville, and has four DNFs, crashing at Atlanta, Talladega, Sonoma and Daytona in July.
``I still have work to do to solidify my position in the sport on the Cup side, that's for damn sure,'' he said. ``You've got to be up front, leading races and contending. So far, that's where we're at in the Nationwide program. We're not there right now in the Cup program.
``I need speed. Until we have raw speed on the Cup side, nothing else matters. We don't have it right now.''
What he does have is the attention of race fans across the country, and that's a good thing for the sport.
``I've got to believe NASCAR has got to be extremely happy with Brad because it seems like the media attention Brad has brought, it's really cashing in,'' Bob Keselowski said. ``From time to time I wonder, is it downhill from here? Are we still going up? Will this still be this exciting two or three years from now?
``I kind of wonder and worry about it because I really like where we're at right now. It's pretty exciting.''

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