2010 NASCAR Preseason Thunder Daytona Fan Fest: Saturday news conference
January 16, 2010
An Interview with Brad Keselowski
DENISE MALOOF: Here we go with Penske Racing's newest driver, Brad Keselowski. Big season coming up, big things, and you'll address that, I know, but first of all, having the chance to compete in the Daytona 500 in the few weeks, big stuff.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, and I was looking for a little better lead-off than that. Yeah, I'm looking forward to coming here and being in the 500, just really everything in general. Got a lot of good things going on. Ready to get back in action and being on the racetrack with 42 other crazy drivers like me.
Should be fun, and got some good cars, good teams. I think the sport is about to turn a corner, and really excited to be a part of it.
Q: There's been a lot of guys that have come and gone out of that second car, Travis, Stremme, et cetera, et cetera. What makes you think you're going to be the guy who's going to lock down that seat?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Wow, man. Let me duck. I've been practicing, working my boxing skills. You never know. I mean, what the important part is for everyone to drink the Kool-Aid, so to speak, and to know that it takes a team to win. It doesn't take a driver, it takes a team, and for everybody to understand that, which has been a major part of the process since day one when I met with Mr. Penske and his group about coming over here was understanding that I alone -- I can't fix anything myself. We all have to work together. I don't have any magic cures or magic wand other than heart and desire and a passion to win. There's some skills that come with that, yes, but it's the passion that makes the most difference.
You know, it's not going to be one person turning anything around in a company when it's a team effort to win races and to be successful in this sport. So as a group, we've made a lot of decisions with that understanding, which is what leads me to believe we'll be successful. And I think we will be. I think it's a question of how long it will take us to be successful in my mind. All the right pieces are going the right way. We've made a lot of changes, without going into any specifics, that make me feel pretty good about where we're going. As a team and as a group we all have to get better. I'm coming into this deal pretty fresh as a driver. I've got just enough experience, I think, to know some of what I want but not enough experience to really have any prejudices on what I need in a car or in a team. So that's a decent advantage for me, something to learn off of.
But there's no guarantees in this sport either way. I see the right things coming together. I see the passion from Mr. Penske that it takes to turn things around on the 12 team. We've made some key changes already and starting to build depth. Hired a lot of people, crazy amount of people, really good ones, too, from Jay Guy and Paul Wolfe to crew chief my cup car and Nationwide car and Steve Addington. Even though Steve is not on my team, naturally the things that are learned on Kurt's car and Sam's car are going to apply to my car and make it better. Bringing in a lot of new ideas, a lot of fresh faces and that's carrying over into the shop to where -- we flew down on the plane, Kurt and Sam and I, and we were talking about the different vibe that's already through the shop with the crew chiefs plugging away and working together. Those things are very beneficial, and we'll have to see where it leads, but I believe in it.
Q: I assume you were kind of joking when you came in here talking about making two media appearances in two days time, but on a more serious note, does it worry you when you hear things like NASCAR scene is going away and there's less races on network TV this year than there have been in the past?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: You know, the NASCAR scene deal certainly does because I feel like as a kid growing up in the sport, the Scene was like a fixture for me. My parents would bring that home every week from when they were at the racetrack. So even if I didn't go to the race, I'd get the scene. I grew up in kind of this middle zone, so to speak, where the internet was just starting to come in, but I really didn't have it until -- it was kind of this middle zone where I didn't really have it to get news but now that I've gotten older it's become kind of a had you been. To rely on it growing up I relied on a lot of different sources like the Scene and so forth. That makes you wonder how the next generation is going to get their news from credible people, credible journalists and so forth. That scares me more than anything else.
Naturally businesses are going to come and go. Hell, that's the American way. That's capitalism. But what scares me is the top trusted media, the people that you believe in when you can read a story and know that they're telling you the truth and know that there's no bias, that this is the real deal, and to see some of those organizations go away is really scary for me certainly. So I think that's interesting to see what's going to happen there. In my mind at least.
As far as the network TV goes, it's just coming full circle. I mean, it wasn't long ago where you had to watch ESPN anyway to watch a race. Being on ABC was somewhat of a luxury in my mind anyway, so I don't see a huge change there from where the sport was 10, 15 years ago, so we'll see how that works out.
Q: Can you talk about Jay Guy? How much have you gotten to work with him so far? What makes you think that you guys can work well together?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Start off with how much I've worked with Jay so far? Was that the question? I was thinking about the Scene if that makes you feel any better. I'm being honest.
I've worked with Jay a little bit, did a Goodyear tire test at California, a couple little other tests here and there trying to figure things out. That's been great. Jay is what I call a tape measure crew chief, which means he carries around a tape measure in his pocket all day long, and he's not afraid to jump underneath the car and measure something and say, hey, man, what's the deal on this? So I like that. He's very direct, which is similar to me. I like the fact -- immediately before we even hired him, we all sat down together looking at different crew chiefs and different options, the thing I liked about Jay right from the get-go was that Jay had the ability to look at me right in the face and call my bluff and call me out and say, hey, you need to do this better.
And I wanted somebody that could do that, somebody that could keep me honest, for lack of a better term. And Jay has that ability, and I respect that. That's part of what I had with pops when I had pops. Pops was maybe the first one to tell me when I screwed something up. And Jay is not afraid to do that, either. Jay is at that perfect age to where he's got good experience in Cup, but he doesn't have really any prejudices, just like me. He's got a lot of drive and passion to go with that. I like the fact that both Jay and Paul have done more with less throughout the career. That means a lot to me, because that's very similar to where I've come from.
That held a lot of weight for me in bringing those guys in to crew chief. So that should be interesting to see what they can do, and it makes me feel like I'll be able to relate with them and work with them for years to come.
Q: Can you speak more specifically to some of the changes you talked about with your team, and then address any concern you might have about running both series full-time in 2010?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah. I'm going to walk a little bit of a line on changes because certainly we don't want to give away any competitive things that we're working on. The changes mostly have been hiring people. That's a large piece of the puzzle. I think I was quoted earlier last year as saying we needed 100 some people, and that might not have been the smartest thing to say. But we have hired a lot of people. What that number is, I don't know. But it's been refreshing. It's been good to see new ideas, and to see just the general vibe within the shop, to see more smiling faces. And there's no real way to explain that other than the feeling that you get when you walk through the shop and you look at somebody in the eyes and you know that they believe. That's part of what's turning. That's part of what is going from where it was to the struggles that we've had in the past or that the company has had in the past to where I see it going now.
So that's probably the best way I can explain it without saying we change a shock absorber and picked up a tenth. That's part of what makes me believe. We still have a ways to go. We have identified some areas in our cars with bringing in Jay and Steve that need a lot of work and are going to take a lot of time to get that work done, and I think we're all nervous about that. We all know we've got a lot of work to do to catch up, myself included. I've got things I can do better, too.
But it'll be interesting to see how long it takes to get that work done, but we have direction. That's really important. We have three crew chiefs that are working together and are pulling the rope the same way, which I think is really good, as well.
Q: And about running both schedules?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: The challenges of that are going to be the non-companion offense certainly. I'm really not looking forward to going from Sears Point to Road America. But that's part of the puzzle. That's what we signed up for. There's going to be weeks where it's an advantage, and there's going to be weeks where it's a disadvantage. The key is to take the good weeks and maximize them and take the bad weeks and minimize them, and hopefully in the end you'll end up with a benefit.
Q: The first question is looking back, are you remiss that you didn't keep your Rookie of the Year eligibility for this year?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Absolutely not. The experience gained -- well, first off, you have to understand that when you started the '09 season, I had signed up with Hendrick Motorsports, 25, GoDaddy.com, seven races, so that we would retain -- first off, the 15 couldn't run more than seven races, but also that would help me retain my rookie status. If I would have stuck to my guns on that, then I would have never ran Talladega. I hold no regrets for that reason alone.
But then there's also the benefit of getting to run the Penske car for the last three races. When I look back at it, man, if I wouldn't have ran Talladega, how much would that have changed my world? How much would that have changed my confidence or my decision-making process in some of the things I've done?
And there were other races, too, getting to run the '09 car that I learned a lot from. It's not just Talladega, but all in all, I feel like we made the right decision.
Q: And then in a completely separate question, they're talking about letting you guys bump draft, maybe taking away the yellow line, maybe increasing the size of the restrictor plate. Are you for or against that kind of talk?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I'm for whatever it takes to make the fans happy. If you can define that for me, check mark yes. I guess that's really to me more of a question for the fans. If that's what they want, that's what we've got to do.
Q: Back in the Nationwide Series for a second, you're one of three guys that's going to be running full-time double duty. But it looks like there's a good crop of Nationwide drivers who are going to be running the series for the -- full time for the first year this year. Who do you look it as possible guys who might be able as a Nationwide regular to win the title?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, it's hard at this point in the year because the Nationwide stuff naturally works itself out later right before the season starts who's going to be full-time, so it's hard to really define them. I guess out of the Nationwide regulars, maybe -- probably Reed Sorenson. He's a guy I think a lot of, to be honest. I think he's very skilled. So of the Nationwide regulars, I think that he could be a threat. Really all of those Brawn cars are pretty decent. They've done a heck of a job as a standalone organization to perform as well as they do. I would say anyone from that group.
Q: If you could speak a little bit on the races you did with James Finch's team and expand a little bit on that experience, and specifically what was it like racing with James?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Everybody wants to know about James. You guys have all heard the same stories I have. (Laughter.) I don't have any stories from James, just to let you know. Just to put that out there.
You know, it's fun racing with someone who views racing in such a manner as James does. He's here to have fun. And on the Cup side, there's not a lot of car owners that are really having fun. Obviously Rick is because he's winning all the time. But a lot of them are just (indicating pulling hair out).
So that's what was the most fun to me about racing with James is knowing if you won the race or finished 35th, he was going to have a cup in his hand and he'd be happy. I don't know what was in the cup, I'll plead the fifth on that. So that was pretty cool. The group itself was fun to work with, and winning races was fun. We were in contention to win the second Talladega, as well. It was just really refreshing and good to be with someone like that and in a group like that. I got the chance to learn a lot while I was with him and to build some confidence. So that's certainly something I'll look back on and remember as being a lot of fun.
Q: You're quite a contrast to the generally stern and pretty serious Roger Penske. How is that relationship working out? Would you relate what it was like the first time you sat down with Roger to talk about this ride? Was it pretty intimidating?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I guess I'll start with the first part about being different than Roger. I don't know, I think there is a part in all car owners that is kind of stern, all successful car owners, that's kind of stern and proper-like. Certainly Mr. Penske has that. As you spend time with him, we both kind of lower our guard, so to speak, and kind of have fun and really make progress. It's really only when you lower your guard that you can get anywhere on conversations. Behind closed doors or in motor home lot or whatever, I think the conversation changes a little bit as we go. So that's been -- that's kind of fun for me to see that progress.
It was funny because I was with Dale one time and we were talking about Rick and Roger and similarities between the two. And we all talked about how he'll be in the middle of a conversation and you kind of look at him and give him that look and say, okay, now stop giving me the car salesman talk and tell me how you're really feeling. That's kind of where we're at. That's important. It's important to have an open dialogue to where everybody calls a spade a spade.
That's where we're at there. I think it's something that I've viewed as a challenge or something that's important for our performance, to have a relationship with -- between us two, between me and Mr. Penske, to where we can be honest and open about things and not cover it up and swear about it if that's what you need. Now, you don't have to do that on the radio or over the media, but you need to have that relationship behind closed doors. I think that's starting to develop, and when that develops fully, that's going to be really good for us as a group and as a team.
Q: How about that first meeting?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: The first meeting, you know, I was I would say mildly intimidated. There's a whole group there at Penske Corp -- for those that know anything about how Penske runs, there's Penske Corp in Michigan and there's the Penske racing team down south in Mooresville.
The first time I met him, keeping in mind I'm from the Detroit area, I drove by his building all my life, and I was more in surprise that that was his building because everything he has is unmarked in Detroit. I don't really know why, I'll have to ask him about that one day. So everything he has is unmarked, but it was very, very close to where I lived in Detroit when I lived up there. Literally my mom worked in the building right next to it, and we never knew growing up.
I was probably more intrigued by that than I was really intimidated. I thought that was really cool and was really trying to understand what that was all about. You know, over time there's a certain swagger or confidence that you have to have as a race car driver that you belong here in order to move forward, and so that takes down some of that intimidation factor. Way more intimidated by a beautiful looking 25-year-old blond than I am a car owner at this point in my career, which seems really weird. It really does. I don't know, that's the way it goes.
Q: You had said at the end of last year that one of the hardest things about leaving JRM was going to be the fact that a lot of your friends were there and you don't have a lot of friends outside of racing. I was curious have you had any big bonding trips or anything with your new crew, with your new guys so that you feel comfortable with them?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, that's a really good point, because one of the hardest things for me in running both series is to build the camaraderie with two teams that I don't know anybody on them. So that's a really big challenge for me. I think that's probably the part that the media thinks -- doesn't think about. You know, the scheduling and all that is really not as big of a deal as it sounds because if you weren't on the racetrack, they'd find something else for you to do. So it's not like by not running Nationwide practice you get to sit in your motor home and relax. You end up doing something.
The scheduling part is really not as hard as it seems to be, as much as the building a bond with your team is very, very important, and I think you lose some of that when you run both series. So that's a challenge for me. Testing with them has been helpful. That's actually one of the biggest goals of testing was not to put, per se, part on and find a tenth; it was to understand who was on my team and to understand how to work with Jay, and eventually when I get to work with Paul, figure out what his personality is. It's more about personalities than almost the car at this point, I think, the sport the way it's evolved. Even though there are differences in the cars, it comes down to right now the sport is so team-oriented that it comes down to those little tiny communications, and some of them happen without saying a word. Some of them happen just by knowing the guy that you're working with.
So it's so important to know those people and to have relationships with them where they're like the back of your hand. I don't think that gets as much credit as that deserves right now in racing, how much of a team sport this has evolved into, how much knowing the people on your team and having a relationship with them can benefit you.
Q: Has Jay Guy told you about his philanthropic side yet?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, he hasn't. He's told me about the travel coordinator business that he's going to start. Apparently he's really good with travel for anyone that needs travel arrangements. He's offered multiple times to help me out and start a company. But other than that, no. I haven't heard about that. You'll have to tell me a story on that.
DENISE MALOOF: Brad, thank you. Best of luck. We'll see you very soon here.
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