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Keselowski Revs Up The Jaws On Eve Of The 500

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 14 2015

Brad Keselowski named names in his talk with the media this week. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

If former NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski isn’t the Smartest Guy In The Room, he’s willing to debate anyone who thinks he is, 24/7.

Stock-car racing’s reigning poster boy for social media, Brad K. is hell-bent on returning the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion fielded by team-owner Roger Penske to its title-winning form of 2012. That was one of a variety of topics Keselowski broached during his Media Day news conference at Daytona International Speedway earlier this week, when he pronounced himself as the third-best driver in Cup. FYI, neither of the first two is named Jimmie Johnson, who merely has won six titles.

In this edited transcript, Keselowski waxes philosophic about impending fatherhood, Ferrari payments, fruit trees, branding and his “Bad Boy” reputation.

Q. TALK ABOUT YOUR LEARNING CURVE AS A DRIVER FROM WHERE IT STARTED TO NOW. HAS IT BEEN A STEADY PROGRESSION?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I know I had a lot to learn and am still learning. I think that’s a key to life, to never feel like you are done learning. I would say I probably had a year where I didn’t learn much in 2010 and then in 2011 and 2012 I learned a lot. I don’t know if it’s always steady. It kind of goes up and down at different rates but I would say one of the keys to my success is constant growth.

Q. HAS IT ALWAYS BEEN ON YOU OR DO YOU SEEK OTHERS OUT?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I’m not afraid to ask others for help but at the end of the day it’s on me to figure it out.

Q. THIS CROP OF YOUNG GUYS COMING IN, DO THEY HAVE IT DIFFERENT THAN HOW YOU CAME IN?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Every driver has his own story so it really isn’t fair to say if anyone is like me or not like me. You would assume they’re not like you. I think each generation is different, too. There’s a little bit of infusion of new drivers and new talent but it’s relatively small _ at least those that have been successful and winning races and starting up-front and doing the things we attribute to success. Of them, I think Kyle Larson comes to mind and Austin Dillon and certainly I’m a lot different than they were. I guess it kind of answers itself.

Q. WHAT IS YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR ANY YOUNG GUY?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Learn to golf. It pays a lot better.

Q. CAN YOU DEFINE WHAT IT IS LIKE TO BE STRAPPING-IN FOR THE DAYTONA 500?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I try really hard to make it not feel like a big deal. I try really hard when I’m getting in the car before the start of the race to make it feel like just another day. I think it helps put you in a mental spot where you can make the best decisions which aren’t when you are full of adrenaline and hyped-up. For me, on a good day, it just feels like another day.

Q. DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU STRAPPED-IN FOR THE 500?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, it was 2010 and I remember all the people on pit road and in the grandstands and thinking to myself that I was finally getting to do this and it was really cool. Then I blew a tire out on Lap 4, and that wasn’t fun.

Q. CONGRATULATIONS ON THE BABY NEWS. CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THAT LIFE-CHANGING EXPERIENCE?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: That’s really not fair for me to talk about it being a life-changing experience until it happens.

Q. WELL, YOU KNOW IT IS COMING. FROM THE MINUTE YOU FIND OUT IT CHANGES YOUR LIFE, RIGHT?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah. I’m excited and prepared for it. I feel really good about it but I can’t say it has really been life-changing to-date. I expect it to be life-changing once the baby is born. I grew up in a family where I’m the youngest of five. I have three older sisters and I have been an uncle many times over and experienced it from that point of view. I’m sure it will be different when it’s your own child. I have a pretty good grasp for how it works and I think it’s going to be good.

Q. WHAT HAS THE RESPONSE BEEN LIKE FROM YOUR PEERS?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: The overall response has been very positive. I got messages from people I never thought I would get messages from _ guys like Jamie McMurray; that meant something to me.

Q. IS IT GOING TO CUT INTO YOUR VIDEO GAME TIME?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah. We’re working on that. I can stay up all night so I think I’ll have the nighttime schedule. I always run better at night races.

Q. DO YOU THINK IT WILL HAVE AN AFFECT ON YOUR CAREER?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think I would be remiss to say it will have zero affect. Is it going to make me pull a different move on the racetrack? Probably not. Is it going to affect my patience and outlook on topics off the track? Certainly. I think that’s reasonable to assume.

I have noticed there are a lot of Barbie vans in the MRO lot. I’m sure I’ll have a Barbie van, too. But I haven’t put that much thought into this topic outside of looking out for the baby’s well-being, and Paige. I love to take care of her. I haven’t thought of the social ramifications outside of that.

Q. AT WHAT RACE IS THE BABY DUE?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: All-Star Race weekend.

Q. WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT ALL THE RULES CHANGES AND SUCH, THIS DAYTONA 500 IS STILL JUST ABOUT LINING UP AND GETTING LUCKY ENOUGH TO WIN, RIGHT?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Every race weekend things have to fall the right way to win. It always has taken a fast car and great execution and a little bit of luck to win. Week-to-week depending on the many variables that affect a race it seems like those percentages shift and when we come to the plate tracks, certainly the luck percentage is higher than at other tracks. I don’t think it’s fair to say the other two categories cease to exist just because you’re at a plate track. You still have to have a fast car and have to execute.

For me, the execution side of that means everything from the guys on pit road to the driver making the right moves. But some races, I’m sad to say, just don’t seem like they’re winnable. You can be leading and get caught in a lapped car’s wreck or come to pit road and get trapped by the yellow and that‘s part of the deal, part of the game. There is a luck factor. It’s a little higher at Daytona and Talladega but at the end of the day more times than not, the guy that deserves to win, wins.

And I would say early-on there will be some people, hopefully I’m not one of them, who get caught. Probably more specifically to driving through three pit boxes which has kind of been a bit of an epidemic the last year or two when it hasn’t been enforced. It will be nice to see it enforced since it’s a bit of a safety matter. I would expect some people will be held honest on that. Maybe I’ll be one of them. I hope not. I’ll try really hard not to be. That will be part of the game.

Q. WE’VE SEEN DANICA PATRICK, RICKY STENHOUSE JR. AND TONY STEWART EXPRESS RESERVATIONS ABOUT THE QUALIFYING FORMAT FOR THE 500. WHERE DO YOU STAND ON THAT?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I haven’t put a lot of thought into it. I think there are probably more pressing issues in the sport that deserve attention than that. To spend a lot of time thinking about it is to kind of ignore them. I’m not the biggest fan of it but nobody asked me when they were making that decision. At the end of the day as a competitor you like to see success be quantified by the talent of the team or the driver. You accept to some extent that luck is a factor. When those ratios or percentages as I was discussing earlier get out of balance, we all kind of look in the mirror and ask ourselves what we’re doing here. That qualifying format lends itself to more of a luck percentage than I think we really appreciate as drivers.

Q. IS IT MORE OUT OF BALANCE BECAUSE WHAT YOU ARE DOING HERE IS JUST LOCKING IN THE TOP TWO CARS?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think it’s more out of balance because of pockets of air, drivers that stop in front of you for no apparent reason other than to mess your lap up. It’s so random. It is what it is.

I think there’s a system that fixes it and it’s called the Duels (races). Unfortunately, the Duels aren’t used to determine the front row. It is what it is.

Q. AREN’T THEY LOOKING AT THAT THOUGH? LOOKING AT POLICING THE MONKEYING AROUND THAT HAPPENS IN QUALIFYING?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I haven’t seen the release so I can’t speak on it. I was told last year that there was going to be a review of it so that’s all I can offer. Sometimes things come together and sometimes things fall apart that you just can’t explain. Kevin Harvick’s team did a good job and so did Kevin of putting it all together last year. My team did that in 2012. That’s not something to take for granted, that’s for sure.

Q. A COUPLE YEARS AGO YOU SAID YOU WERE A “B-PLUS” DRIVER WITH “A” POTENTIAL. WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU ARE NOW?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I feel like I’m a top-three driver in the Sprint Cup Series. I feel really good about my position week-to-week based on whether it’s the track or rules changes I feel like I can be either the best driver or all the way back to a 10th-place driver.

Q. IF YOU ARE THIRD, WHO ARE ONE AND TWO?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I personally think just from watching, and I’m not afraid to say it, that Carl Edwards is the best driver in Sprint Cup. That’s my personal opinion. It doesn’t make it law or fact but I think to go with that you could probably place an argument for Kevin (Harvick) as the second-best. It’s a bit subjective.

Q. KEVIN MAKES SENSE BUT WHAT ABOUT CARL, WHO’S NEVER WON A CUP CHAMPIONSHIP?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I’ve seen what Carl has done in cars that didn’t have the speed. He has a very diverse skill-set. He’s been able to win at tracks like Sonoma (road-course) and has won at every type of track. And I feel like he does the best job of any driver I’ve seen out there at taking a car that’s not fast and finding speed out of it. I think when he’s had dominant cars he’s shown dominant performances, which is what you have to do. He has kind of shown, to me, the skill-set at every level to be a top driver.

Q. DO YOU EXPECT HIM TO BE A CONTENDER IN THE JOE GIBBS RACING TOYOTA?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I do. It would not surprise me if they were the team to beat this year. There’s something about those new teams. Magic comes together.

Q. DO YOU WISH YOU HAD BETTER RELATIONSHIPS WITH SOME DRIVERS?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: You always wish you had better relationships. Whether you’re Jimmie Johnson or anyone you always want to have the best relationship you can have, but the question is at what expense? I bet you probably want to drive a Ferrari around but you don’t want a $10,000 car payment each month. For me, whenever the “car payment” is high in the sense of having to give something up for my own performance, I’m not that interested in driving a Ferrari.

Q. WHEN YOU SAY YOU ARE A TOP-THREE DRIVER, IS THAT COMPLETELY A RESULTS DRIVER OR ARE THERE INTANGIBLES?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: There are a lot of intangibles. The results are strong but there are a lot of intangibles as well. So, yes on both counts. I feel that we spend a lot of time in this sport looking at stats and stats are good. I don’t want to go all Charles Barkley on stats but they only tell part of the story. There is much more to this sport than the stat book. It’s not bad to go off of.

Q. THEN HOW MUCH DO YOU TRUST THE ANALYTICS?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Some analytics are better than others. It depends. The NASCAR Loop Data is a little, perhaps, less on my radar than some other things. I think there are some things that are not measured that are much more important than a lot of things that are measured. Without getting into anything proprietary, that’s where I draw those conclusions.

Q. YOU SAID IN THE PAST YOU WERE FINE WITH BEING NASCAR’S BAD BOY. DO YOU FEEL YOU ARE? ARE YOU STILL FINE WITH IT?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don’t know if I feel like I’m anything. I haven’t spent a lot of time worrying about brands or whatever. I have put a lot of thought into winning and I have put a lot of thought into why I’m here and why I’m still racing. When I wake up in the morning I feel good about why I’m here. At the end of the day I don’t race for a brand; I enjoy the living I make off of the sport and I’m very fortunate that I make a very healthy living but I’m not here to be a brand, even if I don’t have a choice in the matter. I’m here to win races and to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that when I woke up this morning that being a race car driver pushed me to another level as a person and a professional whether that’s in work ethic or mental focus or far beyond that. Maybe some other category, whether it’s physical fitness or whatnot.

Racing pushes me to another level that nothing else in my life does or ever has. Specifically, racing to win pushes me to that level. In that case, what I’ve said earlier about it doesn’t bother me about being labeled a bad boy or not having any label at all. What would concern me more than anything is to be a part of this sport only to collect a paycheck or to try to make everyone else happy and in that same light know that I didn’t give it my all. I know that when I’ve had whatever run-ins I’ve had throughout my career, I’ve had them because I’ve done the things that I feel like I need to do to be the best and that’s why I’m in this sport. That’s what drives me.

Q. ON THE TOPIC OF BRANDING, IS THAT A SHIFT FROM WHERE YOU WERE LAST YEAR?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I still want to take NASCAR to different places, absolutely. But I view that as my role as an ambassador of the sport, especially as a champion but it doesn’t come before my desire to be a winner. If those different endeavors came at the expense, whether I realized it or not, of being a winner or champion I would get rid of them right away. I kind of look at them as candy or my way of giving back to the sport or paying it forward for the opportunities I’ve been provided. They’re completely exclusive in my mind to my desire to win races and be a champion.

It’s branding but not because I’m looking for branding. It’s me being able to look myself in the mirror or look at other drivers, future drivers, and say I did what I could to grow the sport. Not for my own well-being but for the sport.

Q. IS IT FRUSTRATING TO NOT BE ABLE TO ESCAPE THE BRAND?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think it’s more frustrating to me when people come to conclusions that aren’t based on fact. It bothered me at the end of last year, not necessarily the run-ins I had with Jeff (Gordon) or any of that other stuff but what bothered me the most were people that felt I cost Jeff a championship last year because I didn’t feel that way at all. I felt like those were people that got caught up in the rhetoric and were just trying to use a line to get readers or clicks or viewers or whatever it is. That bothered me a little bit. I didn’t lose sleep over it though.

Q. JEFF SAID HE RECEIVED A LOT OF MESSAGES FROM DRIVERS SINCE ANNOUNCING HIS RETIREMENT AFTER THIS SEASON. ARE YOU AMONG THAT GROUP?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I sent him a message a few weeks ago. He never responded though. I don’t remember what it was verbatim.

Q. AS AN OWNER IN THE TRUCK SERIES, WHAT IS YOUR ROLE IN GROOMING DRIVERS TO TAKE OVER WHEN OTHERS RETIRE?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I believe in paying it forward. This sport takes a huge investment from major corporations, whether sponsors or private entities and that gets seen as the lifeblood of the sport and it is in a lot of ways. But a lot of the lifeblood of the sport that doesn’t really get talked about relies in kind of that reinvestment of those that have benefitted greatly off of it because they have such powerful recognition and brands whether they want to or not. Whether that is Richard Petty or anyone really in the Hall of Fame or the current driver corps.

I take that responsibility very personally. It isn’t the sole reason I’m in the Truck Series but it’s a large reason for it. I feel like for me, I would not be here if it was not for someone that took a chance on me. There were a lot of people that took a chance, most notable is Dale Earnhardt Jr., but there were more than that including Roger Penske. It’s my responsibility, at least in my own eyes, to give that same opportunity back. I view it as this giant fruit tree. If you keep walking up to the fruit tree and eat all the fruit, eventually the tree dies and there’s nothing left to eat. At some point you have to plant a few of the seeds from the apples and continue the growth of the sport and you owe that to whomever planted the first tree that you ate off of. That’s more of a vision on life than maybe anything else but it connects to how I feel about my role in the sport.

Q.DO YOU FEEL THAT EVEN THOUGH YOU HAVE A CHAMPIONSHIP AND BEEN VERY SUCCESSFUL THAT YOU STILL AREN’T ACCEPTED IN THE SPORT?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I know exactly where that’s coming from. Some days I feel that way but I’m not a very patient man and in this instance I am. I feel like the sport is coming to me.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, February 14 2015
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Ross Fries says:

    I beleive that Brad is true to his word, and has not forgot were he came from and WHO helped and sacrificed for him and never will.