An interview with Brad Keselowski
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR video teleconference. We'll get started with Brad Keselowski. Brad started the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup as one of the wild card positions after winning three races this season. Brad now is fifth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings.
We have the opportunity to get up to at the very least third in points or maybe higher if Carl and Tony make a mistake.
Our Twitter question today is: Brad, have you ever personally tried iRacing?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yes, I have been part of iRacing for quite a while. It's a lot of fun to always race online. I haven't been on in a little while. Wintertime is coming, I'll probably get back on. Probably not this week, but I would say definitely over the off-season.
THE MODERATOR: We will now go to the media for questions for Brad Keselowski.
Q. Brad, I believe you originally signed a three-year contract with a two-year option. Are you going to try to get your contract put together so it's not a distraction for next season?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: That's a very good question. I would say you will know more about that in the coming months.
Q. Did you have any more reactions to the Kyle penalty, the fact that NASCAR is going to let him race this weekend?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I actually felt like it was handled very well from all parties, as well as an incident like that can be handled.
After having the hindsight of time to really think about it, obviously during the race weekend we're worried about our own stuff, what it takes to get our car to run well and win races. As far as the penalty was concerned and so forth, having some time to think about it, I thought it was done very, very well.
Q. As far as this weekend, do you think a second groove is going to come in the Nationwide race? Do you maybe hope to be on the outside for some of the restarts to know what you could be getting into if you're on the outside for the Cup race?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No and no (laughter). That's about the only way I can answer that. I really feel bad. I think the championship very well may come down to a car that gets the outside lane on the restart at Phoenix. If it's the last restart, that could be a death sentence.
Q. What have you learned this year in your run towards the championship? It would seem to me it was a huge learning year for you and would have you ready to strike next year. What have you learned?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I think you're always learning in this sport. I think as a team we've grown together. I don't know if that's really learning as much as that is learning the importance of having good people around you. We have great people at Penske. Paul Wilson and I seem to be clicking very well. I think we have a great shot of having a very competitive year next season.
But we're not done with 2011. We still have two races left. We have the opportunity to get up to at the very least third in points or maybe higher if Carl and Tony make a mistake. We're very proud of the season we've had.
Q. To follow up on discussion about your extension, how happy are you at Penske Racing right now?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Very, very happy. I think we've got a lot to be proud of, like I said. I think as time goes on, if we can continue to grow like we have this year, the sky is the limit for all of Penske Racing.
Q. I wanted to ask you about Tony Stewart, what he's accomplished in his career with the IndyCar title, umpteen wins in sprints, midgets, Silver Crown. Is it hard not to admire someone like that?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Oh, yeah. Tony Stewart is a highly talented racecar driver. I don't think anybody can discredit the things he's done. When he's on his mark, boy is he on his mark. I think he's the guy to beat as this championship unfolds. We'll have to wait and see but he's done some amazing things in his career for sure.
Q. You had a fairly significant announcement with your Truck Series team last week. Could you talk about how that program has developed, the significance of that program for next year, what your impression of Parker is as he gets through his first full season this year.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Absolutely. Last week was a very big week for the Truck team to announce sponsorship for the 2012 season, which is great. We try not to look too far ahead. Obviously, when it comes to sponsors you have to have that done. I'm very proud of those efforts from a marketing side. Having the funding kind of shored up to finish off next year is great. Very, very happy we were able to get that done. That's a big credit to our team, some of the things they've done this year.
Obviously I'd like to see the Truck get in Victory Lane. It's been close with several second-place finishes. Need to kind of climb over that hump and get it done. I think we're all interested to see how that's going to play out. For that to happen, Parker has to continue to develop and grow, which is the point of this program. It's around Dave to give opportunities to drivers like Parker who are on the cusp of being a high-caliber driver or a star in this sport.
We're going to make sure he gets all those opportunities he can and hopefully he can capitalize on them and make it to the Sprint Cup level. I'm committed to doing the best I can to give him those opportunities. We'll have to see how it plays out.
So far we've been up and down. I thought the first part of the year with Parker was a bit of a struggle. Then the summer months came in and I thought he started to get in a rhythm, started clicking off good finishes. I was very proud of that and very encouraged for races to come. To be quite honest, as the fall came in, it's gone back into struggle mode. We'll have to see.
The key for him is to come back next year and fire out of the gate very, very strong. If he can do that, I think we'll be very encouraged with his career moving forward.
I feel very lucky to have four top fives so far and then we've had four bad finishes, four finishes of 16th or worse.
Q. With the additional financing in place, is there any chance you may run a Truck race here and there?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I started the Truck team because of the love I have for the Truck Series. I certainly feel like I have some unfinished business there as a driver. I've been close to finishing races and something has always happened. I'd like to finish that off, but that's not the primary goal. The primary goal is to give opportunities to guys like Parker.
I'm sure the day will come where I need to run a few races to keep the funding going for guys like Parker and crew members on the team and so forth. When those days come, I certainly will run some races. As of now, that day hasn't come and I don't have a clear answer on what races I'll run, but I'm sure that day will come.
Q. I was wondering if you as a driver have sort of a need to pay it forward? Dale took an interest in you, gave you a break. Now you're in the position to give somebody a break. Is that how it works?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think so. I really do. I think I've had the benefit of time over the last few years to become successful. Certainly hasn't been easy and there's been a lot of hard work involved. Not all of it is to my own credit. Much of it is to the credit of others. Whether that's giving Dale giving me the opportunity or guys coming over to my team making my car faster and pit stops better, you learn over time the importance of people.
The tricky thing about that is you just don't find good people anywhere. You got to grow them, raise them, be a part of their lives. So it's very, very difficult to do that.
It's become very apparent in my career that it's also important to give back. I think if you want to be a star in this sport, you have to give back. I don't think you can just keep pulling apples off the tree. Eventually you have to pull an apple off the tree and plant the seeds. The Truck team is an opportunity for me to plant those seeds. When this tree grows up from those trees that are planted, it's a good feeling, a very good feeling, and it's an opportunity for me, even though there was a lot of work in planting those seeds, but it's an opportunity for me to have a tree to eat from for years to come. Whether that's having the next great crew chief, tire changer, having the next teammate, additional team at Penske Racing because we've invested in that, and certainly I was a part of it, I think that's a good feeling. I think that's crucial to my success in the sport for years to come.
I look at Kevin, the things he's done with his Truck and Nationwide team. Not only has it made him more successful, but I think it's garnered him more respect, and rightfully so. He's made a commitment to the sport for the last few years. Obviously he's getting out of it now, but he's put in a lot of years of service to the sport. I think that's really cool to see. I really want to emulate that because I think that's what it's all about at the end of the day.
Q. I want to ask you about Kyle and his penalty. Are you pretty comfortable now? Is everybody around you pretty comfortable as far as the 'boys have at it' how far you can go, how far you can't go?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don't think so. I think it's a constantly evolving line. We just want to make sure we're on the right side of it.
Q. How do you do that?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: How do you do that? You try not to put yourself in situations where you're close to the line.
Q. You've been through the bulk of the Chase now. Was it everything you thought it was going to be?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Absolutely. Absolutely. I'd hoped, to be quite honest, the last five races, we unveiled a new car at Penske Racing, and I'd hoped that we would gain speed with that car. It appears that we gained a little, but not on the field. It appears the field gained a little more than we did.
Other than that, it's everything I hoped for and everything I thought we were going to see in the Chase. I feel very lucky to have four top fives so far and then we've had four bad finishes, four finishes of 16th or worse. That's been tough, but that's part of the deal. I'm very proud to have a seat at the dance. It's been good.
Q. Brad, obviously Tony has a lot of momentum going. What's the specific reason you see him as the person to beat?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Tony right now is the guy to beat because, quite simply, he's fast. His car at Texas was fast. Look at him at Kansas, he had one of the fastest cars. Same thing with Chicago. We have Homestead coming up. I think he'll be very, very fast there. I think he's got the resources of all of Hendrick Motorsports behind him to get him right for Phoenix.
I see a lot of resources being put into his team. He's a very, very skilled driver, more than qualified to get the job done. I think he's the guy to beat.
Q. If it comes down to 10 or 20 laps at Homestead, he and Edwards are within a point or two of each other, who wins?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: The guy with the fastest car and the best team.
Q. You entered the season on a nice championship high, thoughts of taking giant strides. When everything started to go bad, how shaken was your confidence in yourself or your team and how did you get out of that rut?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don't think everything's gone bad. We're still fifth in points.
Q. I mean the early start of the season.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Say that again then. You've lost me.
Q. You came into 2011. Your early finishes in the season saddled you deep in the 20s in the points standings. How much did that shake your confidence in yourself? How did you get out of that rut and race to the level you are at now?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I got you.
Well, I don't think we ever had any confidence to begin with, so I don't think we lost any. It took us a while to build that confidence. I think it started with a good showing in the All-Star Race, at least in the Showdown for the All-Star Race. Then we were able to just keep plugging away and getting better.
Confidence built slowly and it built with speed in our cars. Once you have speed, then it's just down to execution and catching the right breaks. We started to execute in the summer. We started to catch the breaks. I was very proud of that.
It was definitely a tough stretch at the start of the year. It just came down to finding speed in our car and then executing.
Q. How low did you get or were you confident that everything would turn at some point?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: That's a tough question. Yeah, I would say there were some dark days, yes. Certainly after Richmond, that was a miserable, miserable day in the spring. That was about as low as it got. We were able to climb our way out of it. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by good enough people that I didn't let it get us down, or they didn't let me get down. I really can't complain about the lows.
Q. With two races remaining, coming to two key Hispanic markets for NASCAR. I'm sure you're aware of this Hispanic market and all the initiatives NASCAR has for reaching out to the Hispanic audience. I wanted your perception on everything that has been going on in NASCAR trying to involve more the Hispanic people into it.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I think we see that more than just in NASCAR. I know with my own sponsor, Miller Lite, that's certainly a strong initiative of theirs, to reach out to the Hispanic market. I think it's a larger frame than just NASCAR.
I think it's a great opportunity for our sport. I think it's an opportunity to continue to open more eyes and bring in more faces and bodies. I don't see where it can hurt us at all. I very much welcome it.
Q. Have you been with any other initiative involving the Hispanic market?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I have not to this date. I'm sure I will be in the very, very short future.
Q. A few weeks back you had a very revealing interview on ESPN. You kind of left us hanging. Why won't Tony Stewart talk to you?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don't know. I don't have an answer to that.
Q. Looking forward to this weekend, we notice they're using some sort of tire-dragging system to work a groove in. Teams were out there testing. I wanted to get your feeling of the drivers in the garage area. Looks like wild card doesn't even begin to describe it.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: You're right. Wild card doesn't start to describe how I expect out of the Phoenix race at all.
I think a big question will be how the track will rubber in. I don't expect a lot as far as that is concerned because of how hard the tire compound is. I think the track, it has a coating on the top of it that needs to be worn through. The tire appears to be too hard to achieve that. So really I don't see it being fixed by simply dragging tires, but I could be wrong.
There's a lot of questions yet to be answered as for how the race will play out in Phoenix.
Q. It appeared from your tweets with Denny Hamlin that you two kind of resolved the track incident on Twitter with your apology and his honesty about his not having a good car anyway. Did you think the Kyle penalty had any influence on that? Do you think it's going to help other drivers settle incidents in the future?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don't see where the Kyle penalty had any influence on that. I think perhaps Denny and I's relationship has grown severely I would say over the last two years I think to say the least, and that's not a bad thing.
Q. Do you think going forward there are going to be any big implications, drawing a line in the sand, I guess?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Man, I really don't know. I think you only find that out over time. That's why you got to watch all these races.
Q. Coming into the Chase, you were a wild card. Now you're fifth in the points. What does that say for you and your team? That has to give you a lot of pride.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Absolutely. It just says how far we've come as a race team over not just the last year but really six months. It's been very good. I'm very proud of our efforts. I think we can still be better. I think we have room to grow in a lot of ways. I'm committed to doing that.
I'm very proud of what we've done to date and I hope we can go out there and keep racing like this for years to come.
Q. Brad, are you planning on being down here in Daytona for the test next week? If you are, what's the goal?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, sir, I am not. I believe, to my knowledge, we're going to have a Daytona tire test or some kind of Daytona test in January. I'm not sure of that. To my knowledge, there was a plan for that. We've spent so much time with the fuel injection testing as it be right now that we have not had the opportunity to catch up at Penske Racing to a very quick test which is scheduled for Daytona next week. We will not have a car in attendance as far as I'm aware.
THE MODERATOR: Brad, thank you so much for your time today. Best of luck this weekend in Phoenix.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Thank you, guys.