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Notes: The Champ’s Leadership Quest Will Go On

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 24 2013

Brad Keselowski wants to be a garage leader. Accomplishing that will take more time, it appears. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

CONCORD, N.C. – After winning the 2012 Sprint Cup championship, Brad Keselowski told the garages he wanted to assume a leadership role in the series. This year, Keselowski has run into some problems. On the track and off.

Tweeted and voiced comments have not sat well with some of his peers. Unapproved equipment on his Penske Racing Ford did not sit well with NASCAR officials and he and his team were issued significant penalties. On track, Keselowski has not yet won a race.

It appears that the brash driver from Michigan may have to do a bit more proving before he is in position to lead the garages.

Matt Kenseth, a veteran past champion, was asked on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway if he considered Keselowski a leader.

“Nah, I don’t think so,” Kenseth said. “I don’t know. If he’s called any meetings to order, I wasn’t invited to them. I don’t know, I don’t know what that all means. Brad (Keselowski) is very, obviously opinionated and he has definitely his own ideas and I’m sure some of his ideas are shared by some, not sure by all necessarily. I think that’s a good thing. I think that’s what makes Brad, Brad.

“I think everybody is different in this sport and different personalities are important and good. I don’t know what a leader means. I know he’s not my leader. I don’t know if he’s a leader of the drivers. I think being the champion, he’s probably – maybe his opinion carries more weight or more people are listening to what you’re saying because you’re the champion compared to someone who is not.”

Ryan Newman of Stewart-Haas Racing was asked if he looked up to the reigning champ.

“Only when I’m standing next to him,” the shortish Newman said of the tallish Keselowski.

“A leader is somebody you look up to. It all depends on your position. If you look up to somebody like that, then yeah, he is your leader, but if you don’t, then somebody else is.”

Keselowski said Thursday that there are others in the garages he considers leaders. Drivers who have accomplished a lot more than has he so they have “stronger voices”.

He also said he is taking bouts of sniping from others for what they are.

“When you’re in the position that I am in,” Keselowski, who started off the season with four top-five finishes, said, “which is being the reigning champion, it’s a good position to be in, but there are some small downsides and certainly everyone wants to beat me, but they have to essentially have to beat 41 other teams as well. If they lose sight of that, they’ll be in trouble as well, so I can’t say I’ve been spending a lot of time. I notice it, but I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it. I know at the end of the day if we go out and do our jobs, execute, have speed in our cars, and I don’t make any mistakes, that I can continue to win and be successful in this sport. That’s what really concerns me.”

On Sunday, Jimmie Johnson can add another line to his bio by accomplishing the Charlotte May sweep; that is, win both the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600.

The last driver to get the sweep was Kasey Kahne, Johnson’s current Hendrick Motorsports teammate. That was five years ago.

On Thursday, Kahne was asked about the sweep.

“Yeah, I think it’s a big deal to win two big races in two straight weekends, consecutive weekend,” he said. “It’s a big deal. It felt great doing it. Jimmie was ‑‑ he’ll be tough. He’ll be one of the guys to beat for sure on Sunday afternoon. I think you have to change things up a little bit from the All‑Star Race to this weekend to make sure you keep up with the track, but a lot of the things that he did last week will work. I feel like he’s going to be the main competition come the last 100 laps.”

Former open-wheel driver Danica Patrick will miss the Indianapolis 500 for the second straight year.

On Friday, Patrick, many of whose best runs in IndyCar came at Indy, was asked if she ever thinks about doing both races on the same day.

“I would say that I think about it each year at the end of the year what I want to do,” Patrick, who will spend Sunday of this year’s Memorial Day weekend driving a Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing at CMS, said. “I really tried hard to do it this year. We all did on my team. Ultimately it came down to the fact that it wasn’t going to help me here, and this is what I’ve chosen to do now, it’s not fair to take away from it. I have a long way to go to figure this out. I need to focus here.

“As the years go by, more and more distance goes between my full-time IndyCar career and now, it gets less and less likely.”

Patrick, who drove in seven Indy 500s and had three top-five finishes, was asked if she felt homesick watching it on television.

“No. I have really fond memories,” Patrick, whose best finish in the world’s biggest race was third in 2009, said. “I, of course, would have loved to have won the race. I feel very fortunate as a driver to have been in a position to win a few times. Definitely two times having a really, really good chance. I feel good about that.”

A hot topic around CMS this weekend is the possibility of track owner Bruton Smith taking one of his two races away from the venerable old 1.5-mile quad-oval and moving it to Las Vegas.

Several drivers were asked about the possibility of moving one of the points races. Four-time Cup champions Jeff Gordon was one of those asked.

He said, “I can’t imagine not racing here three times a year, or certainly two points races. I love racing here. It’s nice to be home and this is such a special race track. And I feel like people flock from all over the country to come here not just because of the facility, but what else there is to offer with the Hall of Fame, the city (of Charlotte), the team shops and all those things. I would hate to see that. But at the same time, I think Las Vegas makes great sense from a marketing standpoint. When we look at the sport and where we’re at and how to grow it and get those seats filled, you would certainly think that a race in Las Vegas in October would do pretty well. I think Las Vegas deserves to have two races. I would not want to see us take away a race from here.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, May 24 2013
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  • Michael in SoCal says:

    From a racing standpoint, a race at Las Vegas is pretty much the same as a race at Charlotte. Cookie cutter single-file racing. At least Charlotte is in the racers’ backyards. But I do see Vegas as being a big destination for a lot of people. But the racing won’t be great, that’s for sure.