KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Jeff Gordon learned his lesson over time. So did Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth.
It’s the same lesson learned by every young driver who finally achieves stardom: What to say, when and how to say it, and, most importantly, how to deal with the fallout from the content.
‘‘You feel like you have more respect,’’ Gordon said this week, ‘‘and you feel like the thoughts that are running through your head, you’d like to get some of those out there.
‘‘There’s still a way to do that,’’ said Gordon, who, in 1995, became the youngest Sprint Cup champion when he won the first of his four titles at the age of 24. ‘‘You just have to sometimes thread the needle on what you are going to gain from it and what you’re going to lose.’’
That’s the lesson that Brad Keselowski is being forced to learn.
The brash, outspoken, and usually unfiltered Sprint Cup champion has been vocal about what he perceives as unfair treatment by NASCAR, even going on a profanity-tinged tirade last weekend in which he told reporters that they had ‘‘no idea . . . what’s going on.’’
He already disputed a penalty at Martinsville for pitting outside his stall, but the driver of the No. 2 Ford was left seething over harsh penalties handed down by NASCAR this week.
Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano had a combined seven crew members get six-race suspensions after inspectors confiscated an unapproved rear-end housing from the Penske Racing cars last weekend at Texas. Both of their crew chiefs were also fined $100,000, and the drivers were dealt 25-point penalties that bumped them down in the Sprint Cup standings. Penske Racing has appealed the penalties, so both of the teams are intact for Sunday’s STP 400 at Kansas Speedway, where Keselowski will start 33d after qualifying.
Keselowski isn’t the typical, straight-laced Sprint Cup champion.
He has been slapped on the wrist for tweeting from inside his car, and connects with a younger generation of fans during a crucial period for the sport. He can be charming and endearing, vexing and annoying, with an unmistakable anti-establishment persona that seems to resonate.
‘‘I’ve said it before, Brad is a huge talent,’’ Johnson said, ‘‘but as we all know, Brad will say things, and if you’re in the sport long enough, you know when to be careful. . . . I think there’s a few lessons that Brad’s learned this year as to when to say something.’’
Maybe. Then again, maybe not.
‘‘I think everyone has said stuff they want to take back,’’ said Kenseth, the 2003 champion. ‘‘But I don’t know if that’s the case with Brad. He says what’s on his mind and that’s who he is.’’