Brad Keselowski: “I think almost every one of the changes has benefited my team"

Ford drivers participated in the annual NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway.

BRAD KESELOWSKI – No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion – WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT RICHARD PETTY’S COMMENTS ON DANICA? “I literally just walked in the door. I had media yesterday in New York so I had plenty of time to think about that because everyone seems to want to know that.

Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford
Brad Keselowski, Team Penske Ford

Photo by: Covy Moore

It just be somewhat of a slow news day, but I think you’ve got to respect the King for who he is and what he’s done for the sport. Also that he has a right to his opinion like everyone else, and he makes some pretty strong points when you read his whole transcript, but it’s a long ways to go out there and say someone will never win a race. I wouldn’t want to have my name behind that comment, so I think I would probably give that a little more time and see how that one plays out because there are races where I think she could win.”

IN A FOLLOW-UP QUESTION YOU WERE ASKED WHAT YOU THOUGHT ABOUT HER AND YOU SAID YOU DIDN’T THINK SHE WAS AN ELITE DRIVER. AREN’T YOU ELITE JUST TO GET TO THIS LEVEL? “You are somewhat elite to get to this level, but then you have to be elite at this level and that’s probably more what I mean.”

PLATE RACES ARE WHAT YOU PROBABLY FEEL SHE CAN WIN AT, BUT ARE THERE ANY OTHERS? “I haven’t seen any indications that would make me think any differently on that.”

HOW DO YOU APPROACH THIS YEAR AFTER THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF 2013? “It definitely wasn’t good, but that was last year. Much like what I did in 2012 didn’t count for much in 2013, and what you do in 2013 doesn’t count for much for 2014. You have to reset. They do it for you with the points, so that’s a good start and go at it hard, but I think it’s another opportunity, another change – maybe a much smaller change in this year’s car than last year’s change, but still a change in the way they drive and what it takes to go fast, so it’s about capitalizing on those opportunities.”

WHAT LESSONS DID YOU TAKE FROM LAST YEAR? “You have your short-term lessons and your long-term lessons. The short-term lessons were we missed a few things and had some bad breaks. Long-term lessons was changing over with the manufacturer and learning some things about yourself and the team after you come off a championship, so short-term is just learning about the cars and the tracks and the changes that come with tires and everything that are week-to-week variables. I think there are two distinct groups of change to work through and I think learning from those will only make you stronger.”

THE YEAR STARTED WELL, BUT THEN YOU STRUGGLED. WHAT CHANGED? “The new rear suspension package that we came out with at Texas, getting that taken away from us was big, and then everyone else developed some packages that we, quite frankly, weren’t allowed to do. That put us behind speed wise and speed is kind of the backbone of this sport, and then we missed the ball on some execution, whether that was speeding down pit road or parts that fell off the car or pit stops. So we kind of hit the perfect storm over the summer and that’s all it took without getting a race win early in the season when we were very capable of doing so. I think once we hit the Chase period and re-developed our cars I thought we were really strong. Again, we ran into some of the same issues, but on a much smaller basis. I felt we had a really strong run through there a lot of times and won Charlotte, and were really strong and competitive at Texas and Homestead and Chicago, but not quite enough to be where we want. A lot of changes in that regard internally to try to clean up those misgivings, but I don’t think we’re very far off. I thought when we ended 2013 that we ended in a very similar fashion that we ended 2011, which set us up for a strong title run in 2012, so I’m carrying that optimism into this year.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE PENALTY CHANGES NASCAR HAS MADE AND MAKING THEM MORE TRANSPARENT? “I think it’s huge. I think it’s the most under-reported thing you’re talking about. It completely changes the game because we have this balance in this sport between fair play and innovation and it’s a constant battle as to what teams are fast each and every week. Fair play and innovation are two distinct differences and that essentially comes down to the gray areas of the rule book and how they’re defined. That’s being re-defined with this literature and this process. I think it’s tremendous for the teams and tremendous for the fans. If it’s fully executed, which it’s not now, but if it’s fully executed it could really reset the field and the balance of who is fast week-in and week-out and change it from maybe the arbitrary system that it was in the past to a real balanced field.”

DO YOU WANT TO SEE IT IN ACTION FIRST? “Yeah. It’s not in action fully from the standpoint that right now there’s a moratorium on development, so, in theory, you’re not allowed to develop your cars right now unless it’s in specific areas, so once that whole thing comes into play and how it’s enforced from the tech center to the race track, I think we’ll really see a shift, like I said, in the balance and fair play in the field. I think it will be a huge gain for guys like myself and especially what we went through last year.”

HOW DO THOSE CHANGES BENEFIT YOUR TEAM AS A WHOLE? “I think almost every one of the changes has benefited my team as a whole and is part of the reason for the optimism, maybe with the exception of the added spoiler to the back of the car. That’s probably the only change of anything that’s been done, and there have been a lot of them, that I didn’t like, so I think if you want an explanation as to how I think we’d be here for a long time, but I think all the changes are beneficial for us. The Chase changes, I think, fit my driving style the best. The qualifying changes definitely fit me very well, so I think all of them are really positive for our team.”

PAUL IS SUCH A GOOD STRATEGIST. DOES THAT GIVE YOU ADDED CONFIDENCE? “Absolutely, the qualifying format especially. Like I said, all of them, with the exception of the added rear spoiler, has given me added confidence and I think they fit me very well.”

THE DRIVER THAT LEAVES HERE IS ESSENTIALLY IN THE CHASE. HOW DOES THAT CHANGE THE DYNAMIC OF HOW DRIVERS APPROACH THE REST OF THE SEASON? “That could be significant. Obviously, I don’t think there is any driver out there that wins one race and says, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna go on vacation for the rest of the year,’ and there are rules that you still have to show up, so you won’t see that even if there was. But it’s definitely a pressure reliever and I think that’s basically it. It’s a chance to really focus your team towards those last 10 races very early in the season, whether that’s with testing or car development, so it could be a significant advantage.”

IS THE SPRINT UNLIMITED ANYTHING OTHER THAN A GLORIFIED TEST SESSION? “It’s an opportunity to win at Daytona. I think any win here is significant. As a guy that’s sat out this race quite a few times and not had the opportunity to run it, a win in the Unlimited is significant and an opportunity to make sure I don’t ever have to sit it out again, so it’s definitely more than a test session for me. I think any track time here helps you. I was driving in and I saw some rookie Nationwide drivers that are running the ARCA race and I was thinking, ‘They’re probably doing the same thing and get as much track time as possible.’”

YOU BROKE YOUR ANKLE AND DIDN’T MISS A RACE, BUT TONY BROKE HIS LEG AND MISSED 15 WEEKS. WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT FROM HIS COMEBACK? “It’s hard because I can’t really speak to his physical stature and where he’s at, but I know it won’t be easy at all. His injury is certainly a lot more significant than mine. I don’t know how he’s gonna do it, to be honest, but he’s done a lot of other great things in his career and if he’s able to come back out and run full races and be competitive, I think that would probably go right up there with his greatest accomplishments.”

WAS IT DIFFICULT FOR YOU TO STAY IN THE CAR THE FULL TIME? “Oh yeah, absolutely. But I didn’t have a full broken leg, either, so I’ll give credit to him for that.”

WITH INJURIES AND THE NEW CHASE QUALIFICATION, DO YOU THINK GUYS MIGHT TAKE RACES OFF IF THEY’RE INJURED AND ALREADY IN THE CHASE? “Yeah, absolutely, I think people will do that – probably not more than a race or two because we still need to make a living and we still have to make money like everyone else to pay our bills, but I think there might be some consideration for a race or two.”

YOU MENTIONED THE REAR SUSPENSION AT TEXAS AND HAVE HINTED THAT SOME TEAMS WERE ABLE TO RUN SOME STUFF IN THEIR CARS THAT YOU WEREN’T. IS THAT ACCURATE? “In some ways, yes. That’s a difficult question to navigate because if I answered the way I want to answer I’ll get in a lot of trouble, but I think you probably know what I mean so I’m just gonna leave it at that.”

AND YOU THINK THAT WILL GO AWAY THIS YEAR? “I think it has the potential, yes, significant potential.”

I ASKED KYLE UNDER THE NEW FORMAT IF NASCAR HAS MADE IT SO THAT AT WATKINS GLEN YOU WOULD BE FORCED TO MOVE HIM OR WRECK HIM SINCE YOU WERE WINLESS AND NEEDED THAT WIN TO GET IN THE CHASE. DO YOU THINK THAT’S THE BOX YOU’VE BEEN PUT IN? “There’s nobody holding a gun to your head and, no, I don’t feel that way because just running through the system and looking at it objectively there’s never been a season where it’s required a win to make it under that format, so some consistency will get you there.”

THERE HAVE BEEN SOME STORIES AND YOU WERE ASKED IN NEW YORK IF YOU HAVE BEEN MUZZLED OR SOMEHOW NOT BEING AS OUTSPOKEN AS YOU HAVE BEEN IN THE PAST. DO YOU FEEL YOU’RE THAT WAY AND IS THERE A REASON? “I don’t have a muzzle on my face right now, but maybe I should have. I’m in an increasingly difficult position as a champion of this sport to try to convey the very strong situation and the health of this sport, which, although it could always be better is not terrible. And also my own personal agenda to be a champion that moves this sport forward. I think the most significant way I can answer that question is I think quite a few back channels have opened up within NASCAR over the last six to eight months that have given me the ability to not have to go to the media to get something done. That fits my personal and professional agenda, and out of respect for that I think it maybe creates a situation where what might look like a muzzle to you or to the outside is perhaps more a moment of opportunity I just don’t want to piss away.”

DO YOU FEEL THAT’S THE BENEFIT OF BEING A CHAMPION? “Either that or just being so damn annoying that people start listening to you – one of the two.”

DO YOU FEEL BY BEING OUTSPOKEN MAY HAVE OPENED SOME DOORS, BUT WERE THERE MISTAKES? “Are there things I could do better? Absolutely, but the mistakes is what builds your character and helps you become the person that you are and that you can learn from, so they’re only a mistake if you don’t grow and learn from them.

WHY DO YOU FEEL THESE BACK CHANNELS HAVE OPENED UP? “I don’t know why channels are the way they are. That’s probably a better question for someone else, but I do feel like this sport has grown a lot over the last year in the sense of new people, new hires, and a new level of transparency that will serve it for years to come. It’s not really fair for me to answer why it has been the way it has, but from my perspective it certainly has gotten better.”

WHEN YOU SAY THINGS ON THE LINE WHO CRINGES MORE NASCAR OR RP? “Paul cringes the most every time.”

BECAUSE IT HURTS HIM IN TECH? “You said it, not me (laughing).”

DID ROGER EVER HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH YOU ABOUT NOT BEING SO OUTSPOKEN? “No, not really. We talk a lot and we’re still talking about different things. We probably don’t agree, not necessarily with each other but with where the sport is heading, but that’s natural. Not everybody is gonna agree on everything and I think we have a very healthy dialogue. That’s probably the reason why I respect him so much.”

SO DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE AIRING YOUR OPINIONS JUST AS MUCH? “Yeah, I just don’t think it’s as sharp. I talk a lot in code and just hope you guys can figure it out. Sometimes you do, most times you don’t, but that’s OK.”

BUT YOU’RE STILL LETTING YOUR FEELING KNOWN, JUST NOT IN PUBLIC. “Oh yeah, absolutely, yes. I don’t want to sit here and try to take credit for things that I didn’t do on my own because that would not be fair, but I feel confident that I had at least some small role in some of the changes that have gone on in this sport over this off-season, and I’m very happy for all of them.”

SO MORE RESTRAINED WITH YOUR OPINIONS? “Maybe more informed.”

SOME FANS MAY LOOK AT THAT AND SAY HE’S NOT GOING TO BE THE BRAD I’VE KNOWN AND WILL BE A VANILLA CHAMPION. “I’m still gonna be vocal about something that I disagree about that there’s no progress or no change being made on, but if there’s progress or change being made, then why be an (expletive).”

HOW MUCH MONEY HAVE YOU BEEN FINED BY NASCAR? “I didn’t really count, but it’s probably right around $7500-grand. That’s just part of it though.”

DO YOU ACTUALLY WRITE A CHECK FOR THAT? “I sign the bottom of it (laughing).”

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About this article
Series NASCAR-CUP
Article type Interviews
Tags ford, nascar-cup, daytona, brad keselowski

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