NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski didn't just have a breakthrough season on the track this year -- he became a bonafide social media superstar as well.
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Keselowski created one of 2012's best sports social media moments when the Daytona 500 ran into a long delay after an on-track explosion and fire in February. Stuck in his car, Keselowski did what any self-respecting social media addict would: grabbed his smartphone and started posting photos and status updates to Twitter. The candid exchanges instantaneously went viral in media both new and old, as Keselowski picked up more than 100,000 new followers in less than two hours.
The 28-year-old racing wunderkind has since remained one of the sports world's most engaging follows, but he isn't just some digital novelty act. He won NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series Championship on Sunday night -- and celebrated the moment by tweeting a happy photo before even getting out of his blue number two car. (He then followed that by giving one of the better post-win interviews ever.)
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Keselowski found some time in his whirlwind post-championship schedule to catch up with Mashable by phone this week. Read on for his take on NASCAR's new in-car smartphone ban, the inside story of his Daytona 500 tweets and how he hopes Twitter can help revive auto racing's popularity with younger fans.
Q&A With Brad Keselowski
We have to start with Daytona. While you were sitting there sharing that photo and tweeting with people, did you have a sense of what a big deal the moment was becoming in the world outside your car?
I had no clue. There was so much going on. I didn't know it was that popular. Obviously having the support of the TV network, with Fox sharing it on TV, that was very powerful as well. There was just a lot going on and I couldn't keep track of it all at once, so I had no idea how popular it was getting.
I'd actually sent a tweet from my car once before that, but it was just a basic tweet before a race had started and didn't have a story behind it. This was the first time it'd really gotten any notoriety. But I thought the Daytona stuff was great and I was glad to learn people enjoy the same things I do: racing, action and Twitter.
This month you were fined $25,000 for doing essentially the same thing, though. Do you agree with NASCAR banning smartphones in cars, and do you think there's some hypocrisy there given how much they welcomed the attention your Daytona tweets brought the sport?
It kind of just is what it is, to be honest. What can you say? I've gotten to do some fun things with it and had a great time. But NASCAR had to send a message so it didn't go any farther, and there's obvious potential for someone using their phone as an on-board communicator. As far as the hypocrisy question, it's difficult to say because I'm too close to the fire to see it. Others who are farther from the situation might have a better grasp of that. I see it from all ends internally.
You're well-known for it now, but when did you first get so into Twitter?
I really started to take an interest in fall of 2010, when I got an iPad. I had to find something to do with it, and Twitter just seemed natural. It just became a great way to have fun with fans and I got a little bit addicted. I probably use it to consume news more than anything though. I love keeping up with what's going on in the world and Twitter is the best for that. There's one guy, @nascarcasm, who writes satire about motorsports. He's just great, he's really on it and I enjoy him a lot.
So it's just Twitter for you? No other social media has really grabbed you the same way?
I've participated in all of them except, I think, Instagram. I've enjoyed them but they didn't last like Twitter has for me, because they really didn't give anything back. I feel like I take as much from Twitter as I get back from it. Other people like it like I do, and if we can share that experience that's very powerful.
A number of people have written since Sunday that your Sprint Cup win signifies new life and a younger vibe for NASCAR, with you being at the forefront. Is that an idea you embrace, and how can social media help renew NASCAR with a younger generation of fans?
First off, do I embrace it? Yes. Anything I can do to help the sport that's given me so much feels right. As far as how to take it to the next level, a lot of that is relying on fans to become attracted to it and providing great content that they can rely on. I think Twitter is the medium to stay for the immediate future, because you can give and receive at the same time with the fans that are so important to our sport and to our livelihood.
BONUS GALLERY: Our Favorite Sports Social Media Moments of 2012
As New England Patriot Devin McCourty took on the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI, his followers were still able to receive real-time updates from his social feeds. But he wasn't sneaking tweets between plays or during timeouts. Devin and twin brother Jason, who plays for the Tennessee Titans, share their Twitter and Facebook accounts. The Super Bowl showcased one of the more creative approaches to social media in the sports world.Image courtesy of Devin and Jason McCourty's Instagram.
Image via Chris Graythen/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
This story originally published on Mashable here.