Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger R/T): “Obviously Phoenix is a very important race with the Chase winding down and having two races left. We were fortunate to be able to come out here and do some of the tire test stuff.
That was great but the track has changed a tremendous amount as the different series have been running on it. It’s turned a lot blacker with the rubber being laid down but the actual asphalt itself has grayed up quite a bit so it’s kind of interesting, the contrast between the two.
In general, our car seems to be okay. Not really sure how much speed we have and it’ll be interesting to see how qualifying plays out.
Obviously, it hasn’t been our strongest suit but looking forward to the race, which has been our strongest suit as of late. Hopefully, we’ll have a fast car then.”
LOOKING BACK AT 2007 AND THE OPPORTUNITY THAT YOU GOT AT JR MOTORSPORTS, HOW HAS THAT OPPORTUNITY AND WHAT YOU WERE ABLE TO WITH IT GOTTEN YOU TO THE POINT WHERE YOU ARE TODAY? “Well that was my first real big break.
And certainly that opportunity gave me some notoriety and opportunity to race for an elite company, at least in the Nationwide side and be successful.
I learned so much during that time period and I’m very thankful for those opportunities. Without that I just don’t know where I’d be.
It’s great to see people like Dale and Kelly (Earnhardt-Elledge) that aren’t afraid to give opportunities to others to help them grow in their career because, you know as a race car driver, you’re very fortunate to be where you’re at.
We’re not really producing anything; we’re just driving in circles and being entertainers. We’re very fortunate to be where we’re at and to have those opportunities because somebody else took a chance on us.
It only feels right to give those same opportunities back to others in the sport which is kind of why I have the truck team and so forth and perpetuate what makes the sport so great which is handing down those opportunities and showing a passion for it and reinvesting, whether it’s your time and money into something that’s given you so much.
I’m very thankful for that time period in my life. You know it shaped me more than just as a driver, but as a person and as a racer as well.”
IT’S OBVIOUS YOU AND JIMMIE JOHNSON HAVE A TREMENDOUS DEGREE OF RESPECT FOR EACH OTHER. YOU WENT TO VICTORY LANE, YOU CONGRATULATED HIM, BUT AT THE SAME TIME YOU GUYS WERE BOTH FIERCE COMPETITORS ON THE TRACK BECAUSE YOU WANT THE SAME GOAL. CAN YOU TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP YOU HAVE WITH JIMMIE AND WHY YOU WENT TO VICTORY LANE AND THE RESPECT YOU GUYS HAVE FOR EACH OTHER? “Well yeah, I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and the time that we spent together but I still want to beat him with every inch of my body.
I’m not going to lay over for someone. There’s a difference between respect and laying over for someone. I going to push him as hard as I can and you know what, if he does win it, which I don’t plan on letting that happen, but if he does win it, he’s going to look back at this time period and say he never fought any harder than he had to fight me.
That’s how I plan on racing him but at the same time just because I’m going to make him fight hard that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect him, what he’s done as a person and as racer.
He’s earned his spot in the sport and his success and deserves that credit but I’m not about to lay over.”
HOW MUCH OF THAT DATES BACK TO THE ROAD ATLANTA CRASH? “Yeah, I respected that a lot for sure but I’m not going to say if it wasn’t for that moment I wouldn’t respect him, how about that? But I think that was just another piece of the pie, how about that, a big piece.”
YOUR PEERS LIKE TO JOKE THAT JOHNSON’S GOT AN OPPORTUNITY AGAIN, THEY’RE TIRED OF IT. WHAT ARE YOUR PEERS SAYING TO YOU ABOUT THE OPPORTUNITY TO BEAT HIM? “Well, I haven’t really gotten a lot of response from my peers, not as far as drivers but people in the sport certainly aren’t afraid to voice how they feel about it.
You hear more from the people that want me to beat him than from the people that don’t want me to beat him, which is natural. And I think that in general the sport has that undertone of such to where everybody is ready to see something different.
Obviously I have the opportunity to provide that. So that’s awesome, that’s incredible but you can’t will yourself into it. You’ve got to do it. Will is a part of it which you know at some point you’ve got to get out there and get the job done.
I think it’s awesome to have the support of at least some of the garage but I’m sure that he does too. We’re all fighting for one goal. Part of the fun of it I guess is seeing your peers react.”
WE KNOW THAT DALE JR. GAVE YOU YOUR START. DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN HE FIRST SAW YOU? WAS IT AFTER A RACE? DO YOU REMEMBER THE SITUATION WHERE HE ACTUALLY SAID TO YOU HEY, LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS DEAL? “Well I remember the first time that I really met Dale Jr.
I had done some stuff with him online and all that kind of stuff but never really face to face which, for my generation, online is somewhat face to face (smiles).
From that perspective, I still remember the time I met him at first and I thought it was a big deal, absolutely. You know this was a guy who is the most popular driver in the sport and has an incredible story to tell beyond what he does performance-wise.
He took the time to acknowledge me and talk to me. I remember where I was. I was in Bristol in 2007 in the spring race and I guess what I remember more than that was hearing from his spotter.
I don’t know who was spotting for him at the time but hearing from his spotter that he had told Richie Gilmore, who was working for him at the time at DEI, he had told Richie that he thought that they should pursue me and try to hire me which I thought was really, really cool.
Obviously, that didn’t work out but eventually the seed was planted and I got the opportunity with his own Nationwide team.”
EARLIER THIS WEEK YOU WERE ASKED WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST WRECK JIMMIE AND YOU SAID YOU WOULDN’T HAVE FELT GOOD ABOUT IT. EARLIER IN YOUR CAREER, EITHER WHEN YOU WERE HAVING ISSUES WITH CARL EDWARDS OR YOU WERE HAVING ISSUES WITH DENNY HAMLIN, YOU WERE KIND OF UNREPENTANT ABOUT SOME THINGS THAT YOU DID OR THE WAY THAT YOU RACED. WHAT HAS CHANGED NOW? “Jimmie has never done anything to me to deserve to be raced in that manner.
When I race people the way I race ‘em, I race ‘em off of a code that you know usually exits off how they’ve started racing me. Jimmie has never really put me in a spot where I had to, you know, enforce or stand my ground from a perspective of being pushed around.
And that’s probably my number one reason he’s never tried to push me around. Obviously he did try to, you know, run me tight and all those things and I ran him hard back.
I think that’s good, hard racing. But he never did anything to deserve to be wrecked, that’s for sure. I’m not in the habit of just wrecking people just to wreck ‘em. Now obviously if somebody does something to push me around, that’s a little different.”
WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEBODY A NUDGE TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? “Well, I didn’t say I wouldn’t give him a nudge. I just said I wasn’t going to wreck him, intentionally I mean. If he chooses not to save it, that’s another part (laughter).”
YOU AND PAUL WOLFE HAD A GOOD DRIVER-CREW CHIEF RELATIONSHIP WHEN YOU WON THE NATIONWIDE TITLE. IS YOUR RELATIONSHIP THE SAME ON THE CUP SIDE? HAS IT CHANGED? “Well, I think naturally Paul and I have been working together for three seasons now, two in the Cup and one in the Nationwide Series.
There’s no doubt that our relationship has evolved. As of late, we’ve been getting a lot of talk about the pit calls and so forth and for good reason.
I think that’s really evolved our relationship there but I think that we have a good level of respect and humility for each other at the same time.
And when he tells me ‘Hey, you need to trust me on this and we need to do it’ whether it’s a pit strategy call or something on the race car itself, you know I’ll listen to him.
I’ll believe in what he has to say because over time, we’ve built that trust and respect for each other. And I think he has the same feeling in that with each level of success that we have.
We are maybe a little less hard-nosed to each other and just believe in each other. I think that he and I have a very special dynamic that’s hard to quantify.
I said last week, it’s somewhat like being married because it is. It’s a relationship where over time it’s built on trust and every step you take, every day that you work together or live around each other or whatever it might be which is a lot of how this garage is, you live around each other.
You go through those moments where you’re challenged and you’re looking at each other to react. How you react is going to set the path forward for how you work together for years to come.
And each instance I feel like he and I have done a really good job of taking adversity and fighting through it, becoming stronger from it and making better decisions.
And because of that, our respect level has grown and others things come really easy and much more naturally to our collective styles.”
DO YOU THINK YOU HAVE A DEATHWISH AS TONY STEWART SAID? DO YOU FEEL EMPOWERED WHEN YOU’RE BEHIND THE WHEEL? “I’m sorry but death wish is pretty funny (laughs). You get in a race car and when you get in a car, to be an elite driver, you turn the fear off.
When you get in there, you don’t think about those things. You think about what am I going to do to win the race today, what chances have I got to take and that’s how I proceed?
And when that moment comes when I raise a little flag internally and say ‘Whoa, this is scary, I don’t know’ I’m not going to be a great race car driver. And I think that’s every race car driver in Cup.
I’ve heard that over time as you have kids and wife and so forth that that becomes more difficult. Obviously, I haven’t experienced those things so I don’t have a great database for that but I can say that you know for me, being a race car driver, it’s about finding limits, pushing them, breaking them, expanding them and trying again, over and over again.
It’s that constant cycle and when that happens, it happens because you’re not afraid. That’s the only way you can get yourself to push those limits further.
That’s what makes an elite race car driver, someone who finds the boundary, crosses over it, comes back and finds a way to move it a little bit further and goes again and again and again. And that’s my job.
That’s how I look at it but I think that to some degree everybody who gets in a race car and decides to try to make a living out of driving a car as fast as possible has a little bit of a death wish. Sure. But I don’t feel like I have any more than anyone else.
“My favorite thing about a race car, you know, I weigh 155, 160 pounds and my Dad told me early in my career that I probably wasn’t going to be a really good football player, probably wasn’t going to be a really good player of any of those type of sports but when you get in a race car, you don’t have any of those disadvantages.
I don’t have to worry about fighting a 300-pound lineman or taking a hit from a linebacker that weighs 280 and can run faster than I can. I don’t have to worry about any of that.
When I get in that car, I’m the same size as everyone else and it comes down to what level of heart you have and what mental preparation you have to hang it all out there. And that’s part of what makes racing so special and also part of what makes it so difficult.”
ARE YOU RUNNING THE NATIONWIDE RACE BECAUSE THIS IS THE HOME FOR DISCOUNT TIRE OR DID YOU FEEL YOU NEEDED THE EXTRA TRACK TIME BECAUSE OF THE REPAVE AND NOT HAVING A LOT OF TRACK TIME HERE? “Well, I had agreed to Discount Tire that I would run this race no matter what.
I had agreed actually to run three or four more during the Chase and Discount Tire came back to me and you know, we all felt really good about how Ryan (Blaney) was running in his races and they allowed me to sit out Texas and Homestead as we make a run for this championship. Along the way, I promised them no matter what I’d run Phoenix and I wanted to live up to that promise.”
SO WHEN YOU HEAR HOMESTEAD, WHAT DO YOU THINK? IS THIS A PLACE WHERE ALL YOUR DREAMS CAN COME TRUE? WHAT RUNS THROUGH YOUR MIND? “When I think of Homestead, I think about two things which probably nobody else does which probably exemplifies how I think differently than everyone else.
I think of the tire compound and the asphalt configuration. I put those two together and say they are the same as Chicago and Texas and I think to myself I’m going to go there and win that damn race. That’s what I think when I think about Miami.”