Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Brad Keselowski talks wide array of topics, including racing at home in Michigan

Brad Keselowski is 6/1 to win Sunday at Michigan, his home track
Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion, is tied for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series lead with three victories in 2014. Assured of a spot in the upcoming Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Keselowski was this week’s guest on the NASCAR teleconference.

BRAD KESELOWSKI – No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion – WHAT IS YOUR MINDSET THESE NEXT FOUR RACES? “I think you’ve got to take them one race at a time and, as of right now, that race is Michigan. This is such a huge weekend for us. I think you alluded to some of it, but before we get into that, I want to say thank you to all the media that are attending and listening. I know there’s a lot going on right now and a lot to write about and a lot of different press conferences, media conferences, so I just want to say thank you for being here, for one, and to acknowledge everything that’s going on and the tragedy there in New York. So I want to say thank you for being here. Thank you for taking the time and it’s great to be on this teleconference with you. I think, for me, looking at the Michigan weekend – one weekend at a time and this is the weekend that’s in front of us. It’s really the last of the marquee races for me personally to be able to win this year and we’ve been so close to winning any one of them and just haven’t been able to pull it off. We’d like to get that done before the year is over and Michigan is really our last chance, so I’m looking forward to that opportunity. We finished third here in the spring race and second last year. It seems like we’re right there on the cusp of getting that win, and it’s even more special this year with the things you alluded to. My Checkered Flag Foundation has partnered up with Cooper Standard and their foundation and doing the weekend with Careers for Veterans. We’re going to have 2,400 of their employees here cheering us on and be our own Brad K Nation, trying to keep up with Junior Nation, so we’re excited about that and think this is a great opportunity to get a win in front of a huge audience with some important initiatives like Careers for Veterans. Miller Lite was even so gracious to give up the quarterpanels on the car to put them on, so we’re really thinking this is gonna be a special weekend and would like to seal it off with a win. Like you said, to that mindset wins for us are really all that matters until the Chase starts. Consistency is great for looking and having momentum for the Chase, but in reality it probably doesn’t mean much. We’ve seen Jimmie Johnson enter this stretch of the year even so soon as last year and not have a lot of consistency and go into the Chase and be just fine, so I think from that standpoint we’re focused on wins. If we can get a win here at Michigan, we’re gonna do everything we can to make it happen.”

LAST YEAR AT KANSAS IN THE NNS RACE YOU RAN ACROSS THE TRACK AND DOWN PIT ROAD. DO YOU EXPECT A RULE CHANGE THAT WOULD PROHIBIT DRIVERS FROM GETTING OUT OF THEIR CAR AND DO YOU THINK THERE SHOULD BE ANY RULE CHANGES? “I hate to put myself in NASCAR’s shoes. I think sometimes we just put so many rules in place that it’s almost impossible to enforce them all. I don’t know what the line is or if this should be a line or an area that needs a rule, but I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision. At this point, I think I don’t know.”

DO YOU FEEL DRIVERS GETTING OUT OF THEIR CARS AND POINTING FINGERS IS PART OF THE INTEGRAL PART OF THE ENTERTAINMENT VALUE OF THE SPORT? “I would say it has become that way, there’s no doubt about that. I think if you look at the highlight reels, I think of Bristol and you think of Tony, you think of other drivers at Bristol that have been known for it, Danica, what-not, it certainly has become common accepted practice.”

AS A DRIVER HOW DOES WHAT HAPPENED ON SATURDAY HIT HOME? WHAT’S YOUR TAKE ON IT? “I think right now, I’m not entirely sure, but I thought today was Kevin Ward and his family’s funeral, so I think my take on it right now is to just kind of let the dust settle for a little bit and let some cooler heads prevail. There’s certainly a lot of emotion charged on this topic, which is good in the sense that people care, so I don’t want to understate that, but it’s obviously still very, very tragic and still very, very fresh or a raw wound, so I think the dust has to settle before anyone can really have a full opinion on it. Right now, I don’t think everybody has all the facts, so I think we have to get to that level first and, for me personally, have some kind of respect to the family and get through their process and then kind of dig into the hows, whys, whats and how we can possibly prevent something like that from happening in the future.”

JOEY IS IN ONE OF YOUR TRUCKS ON SATURDAY, SO YOU MUST BE FEELING GOOD ABOUT THAT RACE THIS WEEKEND. “I really am. We’ve got Joey driving the 19 truck and Ryan Blaney driving the 29 truck. I’m sure there are some people up here that probably don’t know that I own those truck teams and then drive for Roger Penske in the 22 Nationwide car and the 2 Cup car, so a lot of positive things are going on. One of my goals set for the year was, and this kind of sounds a little bit ridiculous but you have to dream big, but one of my goals set for the year was to be a part of winning all three championships – the Sprint Cup championship is obviously a priority. I think we’re in position to make a run for that. The Nationwide owner’s championship for Roger Penske. We’re certainly in a position to win that. I think we’re five or six points out with a lot of races left, and then the Truck Series championship with Ryan Blaney, who is leading the championship points. So in a lot of ways this is shaping up to be a career-best year for me if we can close it all out. I think we have a great opportunity for that, and then I look at some of the other initiatives and certainly the charitable initiatives are important to me as well. This year we kind of switched gears with my own foundation, the Checkered Flag Foundation, to partner with Cooper Standard’s Foundation to help Careers for Veterans and do some great things there. Obviously, finding jobs for those guys is something that’s a very rewarding task and we hope publicizing this initiative will get other major companies on board to look out for these guys and help them find jobs on their way back home from the battlefield.”

HOW DO YOU RECONCILE YOUR LEVEL OF ENGAGEMENT SOCIALLY WHEN SOMETHING LIKE SATURDAY’S EVENT HAPPENED? “It’s really, really difficult. It’s extremely difficult. The last thing I want to do is sound like I’m the guy who has all the answers on that because I clearly don’t. It’s difficult because I feel like when I remain silent I kind of feel like a wuss, that I’m bowing out of controversy. I believe in all those things, that a good nation goes down when great minds remain silent, and I think we live in a great nation and we still live in a great time, whether we realize that or not. So I always have that temptation to speak my mind on those topics, but then on the other side you have to realize that for whatever reason all of these media fronts are very polarizing and it seems like no matter what you say that someone will be offended. And the reality is our situation in this sport right now we rely on corporate America to fund our teams and to fund my own career, and I need to have as many fans as possible to justify those expenditures, so if you alienate any one part of that fan base, you’re really inhibiting your own future career. So in that sense it kind of feels like a lot of times you’re trapped as a driver. It’s more than just a driver, it’s other forms of public figures, and you just try to navigate it with as much balance as possible and that’s really the only solution that I have, and I can’t say that I’m perfect at it for sure.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON RYAN BLANEY LEADING THE TRUCK SERIES? “I’m really, really pleased to see him in the points lead. He’s got a long way to go and he would acknowledge that as well, but you’d rather be starting from the lead than in a hole. With the amount of races we have left and the way that team is gelling together, I think they’ve got a great shot at winning the championship. The end of the season can’t come soon enough for me and I mean that in a happy fashion. I’m excited and thrilled to see what’s gonna happen. To be able to win a Truck Series championship would mean so much to me. One, because of my family and their involvement in the series for a long time and my own personal involvement, and then also being one of the few guys in this sport that can claim to have a championship in all three series and join some elite company here with Jack Roush, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt. So I think anytime you can add your name to a list with them you’ve really accomplished something, and it would take winning a truck championship to do that, even if it is only as an owner. I’m very, very excited about the future there and even if we don’t win the championship this year, there will be a lot more opportunities to do it. I can’t wait for that.”

ARE BOTH DRIVERS RETURNING FOR YOU NEXT YEAR? “We haven’t figured out our driver lineup yet. We’re gonna let a few things work themselves out and we should have some announcements in the next few months.”

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO GET AROUND MIS? “I think the key is different between all three series. For Cup this weekend the key is timing your pit stops perfectly because having the right position on the track is critical. You want to be in a spot where you’re leading late in the race and don’t have to pit again, and that is a very formidable position. And another thing that goes with it is the restart. You have to be on the front row on the restarts and you have to execute. If you can accomplish those two things, you’ll probably win the race this weekend in the Cup Series.”

WHAT MAKES YOU BELIEVE RYAN BLANEY IS READY FOR THE NEXT STEP IN HIS CAREER? “He’s a winner. He’s won races, and I think that’s where you have to start. You have to win when you have the opportunities and Ryan has done that. He won his Nationwide start at Kentucky. He’s won multiple truck races. He’s leading the points right now in the truck series. He is, to me, the first-round draft pick if NASCAR was to have a draft. You could probably debate between him and Chase Elliott over who is the actual first pick, and we’re glad to have him in the Penske camp and I’m glad to play some small part in his career in getting him there with the Truck Series.”

WHAT STRATEGY DO YOU SEE AS FAR AS YOUR CHASE TESTS GO? “That’s a good question and I can’t say I have all the answers. Travis Geisler, Paul Wolfe, and the management team at Penske Racing, along with Todd Gordon, the crew chief of the 22 Cup car, all make those decisions. It’s not an easy decision. We’re certainly gonna be very busy over the next 12 or 13 weeks leading into Homestead with testing four times, but we think that’s the advantage we need to push us over the edge and get that second Cup championship for the 2 team.”

SHOULD THE PRACTICE OF CUP DRIVERS COMPETING IN LOCAL RACES SOMETHING NASCAR SHOULD LOOK AT? IS IT SOMETHING YOU DO VERY OFTEN? AND IS THERE A DANGER OF SPREADING YOURSELF TOO THIN? “No, not really to be honest with you. There’s no one size fits all program that really makes sense for this. Each driver has his own interests and those interests vary between one guy might want to go run sprint car like Tony has, and another might want to run a late model like Kyle Busch has, or who knows what else? Maybe it’s a dune buggy. I’ve heard about guys doing that, and we had Travis Pastrana went base jumping on an off week last year, so that’s what makes us who we are, that’s what makes us tick. The racing grind can really wear down on you and you have to do certain things that work for you in your life to make you happy and keep you going and to keep you at a very high level with your own happiness. It’s difficult to try and limit anyone to those things, and that’s not just a racer that would be any employer. So I don’t see coming in and stopping those things. I think every situation is different. My car owner has different rules than probably other car owners do. I don’t do a lot of local racing. In fact, I think I’ve done one local race over the last five or six years, and that’s at the request of my car owner and I respect him for that. I get a lot of opportunities. In fact, I had one this week to run in Kalamazoo, Michigan for one of their big races and I had to turn it down. It’s not because I don’t want to do it. Believe me, I want to do it. I’m a racer and I’d love the opportunity and those are huge races that I never got the opportunity to race on my way up, and would love to fulfill that opportunity now and go out and have a shot at winning, but the reality is there are 350-some employees at Penske Racing and each one of them has their salary compensated through revenues generated by sponsors and fans that are counting on me to drive the car. If something were to happen to me in those races, which whether we want to admit it or not there is a higher chance of that happening, all of our sponsors, all of the people that pay for us to do these things, have the right to go away and it threatens the job and the livelihood of 350-some employees here at Team Penske and Penske Racing. That’s the decision, that’s the balance that we have to make and that we have to weigh out when those opportunities come up. Everybody walks that line a little bit differently. At Penske Racing we probably walk it the furthest on the conservative side and that’s worked for us so far, but then again we’ve missed out on some opportunities, so it’s a very difficult balancing act and line to walk, and everyone is entitled to their own right and own way of walking it.”

SO YOU THINK IT’S MORE ON THE CAR OWNER THAN NASCAR IN TERMS OF PUTTING RESTRICTIONS ON A DRIVER? “We are technically independent contractors as drivers that drive for car owners, so the car owners make that call.”

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU DROVE A LOCAL RACE? “I ran a charity race last summer in Canada with the benefits ironically going towards my foundation to help support veterans, so that’s the last time I ran one. I think it’s been six or seven years since then that I’ve done one. I’ve attended some and watched, but I haven’t raced in any.”

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON AJ ALLMENDINGER’S WIN ON SUNDAY? “Seeing anyone get their first one is incredibly special. You only get one of those, right? But to go with that AJ and some of the adversity he’s had to fight through to get there I think makes it even more special. He’s a guy who entered the garage in 2007 with really a hand tied behind his back, maybe two, and he’s clawed his way to where he’s at now to be able to get that first win. That’s something I think anyone can respect and certainly I do as well. I’m happy for him I’m really happy for his team. Tad, Jodi, Brad Dougherty over there that all own that team, they’ve been around and have really paid their dues – probably more so than anyone else in their situation, and they deserve it so I’m excited for them and happy for them.”

DO YOU THINK THIS IS WHAT NASCAR WANTED WITH THIS NEW CHASE FORMAT BY HAVING AN UNDERDOG TEAM LIKE THIS IN THE PLAYOFF? “It’s definitely an interesting dynamic to the Chase, and those guys that are fighting for the 15th and 16th spot it just obviously got a lot harder because they just lost a spot to fight for with the way it climbs up the ladder. It’s kind of hard explain, but I think you know what I’m talking about there. So I think it’s interesting. It’s certainly compelling to watch and I think from NASCAR’s point of view I think that’s what they’re looking for is a compelling race to the Chase and they’re certainly getting that and it’s the fans in the end who win.”

“I think looking at Talladega you pretty much put the hammer right on the head of the nail there. Talladega is always a very complicated race for the Chase. This year it’s probably the most complicated it has ever been, which is really saying something. I look at that bracket and I think of it as the death bracket – the second bracket – because that’s really where a lot of heartbreak happens. You have three races there – Kansas, Charlotte and Talladega – and really only one of them is a predictable race and I would say that’s Charlotte. Kansas, we’ve seen year over year once they repaved that facility and with the very hard tire compound that Goodyear brings, that it turns into a bit of a wreckfest and you can easily get caught up in one of those. Talladega, you just don’t know what’s gonna happen. You could be running second and get wrecked, so there’s no guarantee. You could be running in the back and get wrecked. You can go a whole race and there not be a big one, which we’ve seen as well, so you just don’t know what’s gonna happen there. And there are two very wildcard races out of a bracket of three, so that bracket is most likely gonna send a team that was capable of winning the championship at Homestead home. And that’s something that I think scares everyone to death on the team side, especially the drivers, because they know in reality the only race they can control is Charlotte and you need to win that race to get yourself a guaranteed spot in the next round or be extremely consistent in all three races, which as a wildcard is darn near impossible to do. So you’re gonna see some heartbreak in that round for sure with Talladega finishing it off as the third race in that bracket and it should be very interesting.”

CAN YOU LOOK BACK AND FIND A SPECIFIC TURNING POINT THAT SET YOUR CAREER TO WHERE YOU ARE TODAY? “One? My career has had multiple turning points to get me where I’m at and I feel very, very fortunate. I guess working backwards I’d have to point at the opportunity to drive for Roger Penske, transitioning from the 12 car to the 2 car and working with Paul Wolfe. Those two were significant. Look at the opportunity I got to drive full-time for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in late 2007. That was a huge opportunity. I look at the opportunity to drive for James Finch and win Talladega, and then I look at one of my proudest moments and one that sticks out very heavily was getting an opportunity to drive for the Germain family in the Truck Series in 2007 when my career was really not going anywhere, and that really kind of opened up some eyes and helped me break through to the next level. I don’t know how you pick one. Without Roger I would have never won a Cup championship. Without meeting Paul and switching from the 12 to the 2 car I wouldn’t have had the success I’ve had now. Without Dale Jr. taking a chance on me, I wouldn’t be here. And without the Germain family giving me an opportunity early in my career, so I look at all those things and say ‘how do you pick one’ because if any one of them would not have gone my way, I wouldn’t be sitting here in front of you today as a Cup champion and most likely I wouldn’t be sitting in front of you today as a race car driver.”

A COUPLE OF SHORT TRACKS HAVE COME OUT WITH RULES THAT A DRIVER MUST STAY IN THEIR CAR AFTER AN INCIDENT UNLESS THERE’S FIRE OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT. CAN YOU GIVE A PERSPECTIVE OF WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE IN AN INCIDENT AND HAVE TO SIT AND WAIT FOR THE SAFETY CREW TO ARRIVE? “Thankfully I don’t have a lot of experience with it, but I do have some and I think from that experience I would tell you that each one of them is different. I’ve had some experiences where you get the wind knocked out of you and you don’t want to get out right away. I’ve had other experiences when you’re not even done wrecking and you want to get out of the thing because you’re so mad and frustrated and it’s hot in there, so it’s hard to really define each one and try to put them all under a box because there isn’t a box. There are those rare instances where you’re extremely angry at someone and you’re physically capable of getting out very quickly and Bob alluded to one of those personally for me last year, and I would say that’s just a moment of anger and disappointment. I don’t know if there’s one real set template to answer that with, but I would say that each person is different, each situation is different and you can never tell how one might react until you’re in that situation.”

SO WOULD IT BE TROUBLESOME IF A RULE WAS CREATED THAT SAID YOU HAD TO STAY IN THE CAR UNTIL SAFETY CREWS ARRIVED? “Whether it’s racing or society, I’m not aware of any rule or law that works without the ability to enforce it, and I don’t know how you can enforce a rule like that, unless you had robot on the track to grab the person and put him back in the car. The only way you can enforce it is with a penalty system afterwards and really at that point it’s not effective, so it’s a difficult rule to try to make work.”

- PCGCampbell for Ford Racing

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