It was a blow most NASCAR drivers never get the luxury of recovering from — and Brad Keselowski knew it.
As the then 23-year-old driver exited Nashville Superspeedway last June, he did so with his burgeoning career on the verge of ruins.
The Keith Coleman Racing team which had given him his start had just folded 13 races into the 2007 Nationwide Series season leaving Keselowski with no job, no prospects and, worst of all, the sense his once-in-a-lifetime shot had come and gone.
“I was done, that's exactly what I was thinking,” Keselowski said.
At the time, there was no way a despondent Keselowski could envision the opportunity about to come his way.
A year after losing his ride, Keselowski celebrated his first career Nationwide Series win when he overtook points leader Clint Bowyer in the final laps last Saturday at Nashville Superspeedway.
That victory keeps Keselowski in fifth place in the standings as he heads to Kentucky Speedway for Saturday's Meijer 300.
In a turn of events that still leaves Keselowski shaking his head, the 24-year-old Michigan native has gone from out-of-work aspirant to flagship pilot for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports team.
After the disappointment of Nashville last season, Keselowski caught his first key break when he was tabbed to fill in for suspended Craftsman Truck Series driver Ted Musgrave at Memphis last June 30 and was contending for the win until a late-race spin ended that bid.
“I went to Milwaukee after Nashville and met up with Todd Bodine and whenever you're around drivers they're always like ‘I'm going to help you, I'm going to help you,'” Keselowski said. “Todd said that and I walked away not really thinking much of it but... he was good to his word.
“His teammate got in trouble and he told me they needed someone to fill in and we went out and almost won that race.”
That effort was enough to catch the eye of Earnhardt, whose Nationwide team was struggling to find a solid driver that could compete on a regular basis.
Following a successful three-week tryout, Keselowski went on to post five top-10 efforts over the final 14 races for JR Motorsports and he signed a two-year deal with Navy as his sponsor.
“In order to win a race, you have to practically run a mistake-free race and that's hard to do,” Keselowski said. “You have to build team chemistry and that takes having people on the same page.
“That's what we strive to do and that's what we did at Nashville.”
With seven top-10 finishes in 15 races this year, Keselowski is the highest-ranking non-Cup affiliated driver in the Nationwide standings.
And while Earnhardt has stated he felt like he was too hard on Keselowski at times, he showed his commitment to his driver during a Nationwide race at Lowe's last month when he delivered a hard bump to fellow Cup driver Denny Hamlin under caution after Hamlin and Keselowski tangled on the track.
“In reality there are a lot of perks that come with driving for Dale Jr. The reason why we have great sponsors like Navy is because of Dale,” Keselowski said.
A year ago, Keselowski spent the week after Nashville trying to salvage his career.
Twelve months later, Keselowski's biggest obstacle is trying to maintain the lofty standard his career has now set for itself.
“You know, I got lucky and I decided not to give up on it,” Keselowski said. “Now we have a good shot at running for the championship.”