An Interview With: Brad Keselowski
ASHLEY JONES: Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference in advance of Saturday's Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Our guest today is Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Brad has had quite an eventful few weeks. He won three weeks ago at Pocono after breaking his ankle in a test session and has amounted both a second and third place finish in the last two weeks. Brad also won earlier this summer at Kansas Speedway, and with his two victories he is in the first position to claim a wild card spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Our question today from Twitter is from Cat H. in Denver, Colorado, with a Twitter handle of ChassisCat: "Brad, do you think driving with your injury has helped you focus you and the team on doing what needs to be done to make the Chase?"
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I've gotten a lot of questions about the effects of my ankle possibly helping our performance as a team. I think that it certainly looks that way, but you know, when I look at it, to be quite honest, it seems more or less that the team and I are just executing well together, and that's probably the bigger story and the bigger reason for the successes that we've seen over the last few weeks. The reason for that being we're just putting everything together and we're catching some good breaks certainly, and we've had fast race cars, and the fast race car thing is probably the largest part of that.
I don't feel like I'm doing anything much differently to warrant running as much better as we are, but I'll certainly take it, and it's hard to quite understand why or what it is that's getting us the results that we have, certainly have been receiving over the last few weeks.
Q. I've got a question not about your ankle, but I'm working on a story looking ahead, and we're doing some stuff for 9/11, and we're asking some drivers for the remembrances of that day and how it's impacted you going forward, so I guess I'd just ask what was your story from that day and how has it impacted you going forward?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Sure, and appreciate you not asking about my foot. I remember obviously that day very well, as I'm sure a lot of people do. But specifically where I was and so forth, I was a senior in high school at that time, and I woke up that morning and went to high school, which was good (laughing). I didn't always do that. But I went to school, and I was actually in, ironically enough, a current events class, which had a TV and had all the technology to keep up with the news, which we did in that class. So CNN and those style channels were on right when it happened.
It was kind of obviously a surreal day. The way my schedule was at that time I also was in a correspondence style class, work study class, to where later that afternoon by lunchtime I left and went to work in my family's race shop. So I was able to spend the rest of the day there just kind of reflecting on everything that was going on, and obviously in quite a bit of awe.
Q. How has it impacted you going forward?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I think moving forward, when I think of 9/11 I think of obviously how it affected a lot of people in my generation, you know, a lot of guys of my age that don't have a college degree and so forth that certainly joined the military and are out there doing those things and making those sacrifices. Certainly it's probably had a larger effect on my generation than any other, the events of that day.
But I guess it hasn't affected me tremendously other than the social relationships that I have with those people that have obviously gone on and served in the military and so forth and what that means to me and my generation.
Q. Two-part question: One, you're on this really good roll the last few weeks, but my first question is talk about what that Kansas weekend meant to you and how that kind of really jump-started the season for you.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, the Kansas weekend was great for us as a team on the 2 Team. Certainly winning is always good, and it helped us get that first win and get us to where we're in position now to have two wins.
But as far as affecting us, I think it's obviously a great morale booster, and it showed that if we keep doing the right things, which we feel like we're doing, that we will be rewarded. We've been through a patch before that where -- the week before at Charlotte where we sat on the pole and were running in the top 5 pretty much the whole race and were in position to win it at the end, and the car in front of us ran out of gas, and next thing you know we finish 20th. You start to have those moments where you second-guess yourself and the hard work you're putting into it and whether it really matters, and the win at Kansas kind of showed that hard work gets rewarded. I think that builds confidence in the whole team.
Q. My second question is you mentioned your family race shop. Can you talk about coming through that? Your mom and dad ran a mom-and-pop kind of Truck Series truck for a while, and we've seen your brother make his attempt this past year, and kind of talk about coming through that experience and before you hit the big-time with Penske.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, growing up with a family race team that had varying levels of success was perhaps in some ways a blessing, some ways a curse. You know, a blessing I'll say to get some inside knowledge behind the sport and how it works and so forth, but then obviously sometimes there's things that come from that, whether you have preconceived notions on how things are going to work, or sometimes you dream small when all you've known is small. But I always consider it a blessing, and I certainly learned a lot and enjoyed some great times with my family.
I think the successes and the failures that you have with your family you probably hold nearer and dearer to your heart than anything else in this world, and I certainly still do to this day.
Q. What did you learn the most from your dad?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: What I learned the most from my dad, probably how to be self-reliant and make things happen, make a lot happen with a little, make the most of your resources.
Q. I have two questions: You had your success experience with Dale Jr.'s NASCAR team, and Martin Truex, Jr., is a another driver who had success there and has gone on to Cup, and now Danica obviously is in that situation of working with Junior's team. I'm just wondering, is there something in the way that Dale Kelly, perhaps the Eurys operate that team? Is there an atmosphere there that makes it a good place for a driver trying to learn NASCAR racing to develop their skills?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, that's I guess a good question. Obviously Martin was very successful winning the championships that he did and is at the Cup level right now. I guess we'll have to see about Danica. But I look at it and think how fortunate I was to have Dale. I think the biggest thing is that Dale himself gives a lot of people opportunities and allows you to make the most of them if you're capable, and I felt very fortunate to be partnered with Tony Eury, Sr., who was actually a driving force behind me and getting my own career pointed in the right direction, and I learned a lot from him, as well.
You learn things from good people, and I've been surrounded with good people, and they were certainly the key and fundamental part of my success and base of my success. I'm very proud of that, and Dale should be, too, and I think he is and I hope he is. I think that Dale gives a lot of people opportunities and deserves a lot of credit for that. He gets a lot of credit for things he probably shouldn't, and this is one of the categories where he doesn't get any credit for something he really should. He's made a lot of sacrifices for other drivers to have opportunities.
Q. With what you've been able to accomplish, especially the last three weeks, do you think that in any way might help you achieve more respect, especially from drivers that you've had issues with on the track in the past?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, success breeds respect. That's the biggest thing. People look at Dale Earnhardt, who's very, very successful, but I think there's a lot of people that would tell you they got rubbed wrong by him at certain times, and I think that just shows you that respect comes from success and time. For me I think that's where respect will come from. I don't really feel like I'm doing a lot differently in the car from what I was doing six or even 12 months ago, but I have the benefit of the time, and now that I have fast race cars, I have the benefit of success, and I think those are probably the two largest underlying factors.
Q. Quick question about the Chase and the format: Obviously they've gone back and forth and tweaked it the last few years and there's been different type of reactions, but from my perspective I just want to get your take on it. It certainly seems to, the way things are shaking out this year, has added quite a bit of element of intrigue and interest. Can you just talk about the Chase setup in its current configuration and what that's done for the sport?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I think we've seen different variations of the Chase, like you've said, and I think this is probably the best one in my opinion we've seen yet. Obviously that's my opinion, where NASCAR has put an emphasis on winning for the wild cards, and I think that's good. I think there's a good pool of drivers, and I think a lot of them can win it, which I don't know if we've always seen in the past.
I think the wild card system in general has become probably a fixture of the summer months as far as notoriety is concerned for the sport. I think that it's been a great opportunity for both our fans, our teams, our sponsors, everyone really in the sport, because I think it shows a commitment to making every race important, to holding value to every race. That perhaps sometimes was lost in the pre-Chase era -- not the pre-Chase era but the pre-wild card Chase era. And I think that's important to everyone. I think it's important to know when we come to Pocono in the fall -- perhaps in years before it was kind of a -- I don't want to see a meaningless race, but it was just kind of another race; now we look at Pocono -- the win that I had at Pocono completely changes the whole forecast for the playoff system, and I don't think we saw that before.
I think when we originally saw the Chase instituted that it devalued some other races, and I think the wild card system helps bring value back to races that are not in the Chase, and I think that's great for the fans. I think it shows a huge commitment to the sponsors and the fans and the drivers to reward winning, and I think that that's very good for the sport.
Q. My question kind of goes along with the respect thing. In the years past you've had on-track issues with different drivers, be it Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards. This year that hasn't really been the case. Has that allowed you to focus on getting the job done on the racetrack, and when you're racing these guys in the Chase, do you think anything will happen to clear up those old feuds or old rivalries?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, time heals all wounds, right? I guess I'm not exactly sure what you're asking as far as do I feel like those are healed up or what exactly do you mean?
Q. I guess do you think that by not having those issues this year, not having to answer questions about racing Carl Edwards hard or on-track stuff going on with Kyle Busch, do you think that's allowed you to focus more and has led to some of the success you've enjoyed this year? And once you get into the Chase those are really the guys you're going to be chasing for the championship. Do you think the possibility is there to have those feuds rise up again?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: So if I understand your first question right, it's do you think not having feuds has helped you become successful at this point in the year.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: To answer that, I think no. I think what's helped me become more successful at this time of year against last year is having better race cars and a better team, a stronger company here at Penske Racing. I don't think it's much more complicated than that. Feuds can be a distraction if you let them be, but I don't feel like I let them be a distraction last year. So I guess that's kind of my thoughts on that.
As far as mending fences for years to come or races to come or this impending Chase to come, I don't plan on doing anything differently than what I have to date, and I guess that's probably the best way I know how to answer that.
Q. It looks like you're backsliding, you've got first, second, third; is this week going to be fourth?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think a fourth would be good, but I'd rather have a first.
Q. Three to go until we get to the Chase. Your name is on the list. Are you confident you're going to make it, or do you just keep pushing harder at this point?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I'm feeling pretty good about it, but nothing is ever a certainty until it's done, and I think you look at it, we're obviously not mathematically locked in. Until you're mathematically locked in, then it doesn't really matter. I think we're going to continue the same path we've been down, trying to win races, trying to be smart, trying to build stronger for the Chase, both in momentum for our team and intangible things like momentum for our team and confidence, and also tangible things such as the cars and making sure we keep good cars in one piece and not tearing them up because we're going to need these cars as the Chase gets kicking.
I think there's a lot of goals over the next few weeks that all lead into ramping up for the Chase, but I don't see us doing anything differently than what we're doing right now.
Q. And one more: Can you just talk about the importance of Paul Wolfe and what he's contributing to the team right now?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, yeah, Paul is a smart guy, and that's his contribution. He's good, and we're on the same wavelength. So much of this sport is about that. It's about communication and confidence, belief in each other, which comes from good communication and vice versa. It's kind of chicken and the egg. And I think that Paul and I have that.
So without that, I don't think I could be successful and couldn't be where I'm at here as we stand.
Q. You show your good sense of humor with the traditional media, and you also do on social media, Twitter, your sense of humor comes out. Do you believe a good sense of humor helps you succeed?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: A good sense of humor? Well, I don't think it hurts. I think at the end of the day -- like obviously we're not curing cancer, we're just driving race cars. There's a time to be serious, and certainly when I'm at the track and focused on the task at hand, I can be just as serious as anyone else. I can be the guy that will walk by a fan and not sign an autograph; if it's time to focus, it's time to focus, and when it's time to play, it's time to play. Work hard, play hard is kind of the motto that I have, and when it's time to work, we work; when it's time to play, we play and we have fun. And I think the two fuel and feed off each other.
Q. And as far as Twitter, what does Twitter do for you?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, you know, I love -- I just have fun with Twitter to be quite honest with you, and I enjoy the ability to communicate and speak my mind directly to our fan base and just be authentic and not have to go through other channels. I hope the fans appreciate that. I tell people on there all the time that ask me if I have a fan club, no, because Twitter is my fan club. I treat it like that.
So I just really enjoy presence on there, and the ability to kind of engage our fans in a convenient way when I have time.
Q. Do you think that Twitter thing is going to help NASCAR going forward because it's such a dynamic contact with fans?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, you know, NASCAR has always prided itself on accessibility to the fans and so forth. Twitter is the next generation of accessibility in today's world. I think it's just a natural fit.
Q. I saw where Parker is going to run your Nationwide Series car this weekend, and I was wondering with the way your ankle is and the way you've been recovering, do you think that your win at IRP might have been your last Nationwide Series race of the season?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I sure hope no. I really want to run that car as much as I can. I enjoy it, I enjoy the team, and most importantly I want to live up to the commitments I made to sponsors and to people that came here to work on this car and show everyone on my team and everyone in the garage that, come hell or high water, I'm committed to driving this car and making it work. I'm not just going to give up on it because it's not easy. There's few things worth doing in life that are easy. So I want to live up to those commitments.
Obviously there's a bigger picture at hand that kind of looms over everything we do here with the Chase and the Cup Championship, but I don't ever want to back up on those commitments I made to those guys or to that team and those that support us.
Q. Do you think if you don't run any more Nationwide races it'll give guys like Parker a better shot and might help Penske Racing in the long run?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, obviously a guy like Parker getting a shot, it's a huge break for him and his career, and he is getting a shot right now driving my truck, which is something I take a lot of pride in. I hope he does, too. But in the long haul, it will not be feasible, and I think Roger and everyone at Penske would agree with this, it would not be feasible to have a program like that where it's just rookie drivers. We can't keep the sponsors and the interest in the team from a personnel standpoint with a system like that.
It sounds great, and it looks good on paper, but it just doesn't work. I think we all know that, and it's just going to take -- it's definitely going to have to take a winning program that can win on any given weekend to make everybody happy. It's very hard to do that with development drivers.
Q. I have a similar question to the Twitter thing, but it has to do with the events of the practice crash or the testing crash that you had. What I find interesting is nowadays we're getting it right from the drivers' mouths. It's pretty interesting, both media and fans. You took the time on that day to tell us what's going on. We even got photos from other drivers. Do you think that's really changing the way fans and media for that matter follow this thing?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, yeah. I mean, we're just seeing a complete shift, I think, throughout all sports really on how they're watched and covered and so forth, and some are good shifts, some are bad shifts. Obviously seeing different writers and so forth of the traditional media lose their job is not something that I think we would all say is a good shift. But seeing different levels of accessibility deeper into the sport for the fans that we've never seen before is certainly an added benefit to me as not only as a participant and a fan, because I'm a fan of the sport, too, and I like to hear about things like that firsthand just like everyone else does. Obviously Twitter offers that medium for doing that.
Q. Looking ahead to this weekend at Bristol, obviously a track that all drivers like, is there any particular drivers that you've looked for or looked to in the past to maybe get some tips?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: You know, there's always someone to learn something from, but I learn with my eyes, not with my ears.
Q. At the same time that we've seen you move from 23rd to 12th in the points, Kurt has fallen from 3rd to 8th, and obviously he's had two wrecks in the last two races. Do you have any idea what's going on there as his teammate? How closely are you guys working together? And it seems like the issues they've been having might stem from tire failures, brake issues, anything related to what happened to you guys at Road Atlanta?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I guess I should start off by saying I would much rather fall from 3rd to 8th in points than move from 23rd to 12th. I guess it's the better of the two, so to speak. But certainly would like to see Kurt and it's important for Penske Racing for both cars to be successful. That's the model that we have and that we have to have to keep things flowing smoothly here. Certainly it's an all of our radars how we can get Kurt running better. I need Kurt as a teammate to make us stronger, and hopefully he feels the same way.
As far as addressing specifically what the issues were, obviously it looks like he had some of the same brake issues that we did at Watkins Glen, and that was unfortunate. Same issues that we had at Road Atlanta, and I think we have those all solved now, so we're thankful for that and hope to not see that problem again, knock on wood.
But you know, I don't think you can blame the tires. It's just kind of the way it was, and I don't think it's a tire issue, it's just something that we had to work through internally here at Penske.
Q. Looking ahead to Bristol, it was one year ago where in the Nationwide race there was a pretty controversial finish. Kyle Busch wrecked you on the way to his win, and the very next day during driver introductions you famously called him an ass, but now we're here, it's one year later, not only do you have two Cup wins under your belt, but for the past three weeks in Cup, you and Kyle, you've been right there in the closing laps racing for the win. Would you say that in the time that has passed that you two race each other differently now than you did a year ago?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don't know. We haven't been back to Bristol. I guess that's why we keep racing, because you think sometimes things are better and you think sometimes things are worse, and you find out, and you kind of get your quarterly report every race as Roger likes to say. I guess we'll find out next time we're side by side at Bristol. I don't know.
Q. I might be asking too early, then; maybe I should wait until after the race; but has your opinion of Kyle changed in that time?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, that's a good question. I meant what I said when I said what I said, and I'm not going to take that back. But it's on a case-by-case basis. As of right now I don't have any issue or qualms with Kyle, but that can certainly change.