NASCAR Media Conference
November 6, 2012
JAYME AVRIT: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the first of two NASCAR Cam video teleconferences today. We are going to kick it off with Brad Keselowski, driver of the No.2 Miller Lite Dodge for Penske Racing. At 3:30 p.m. we will be joined by 2012 NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Kyle Larson.
With two races to go, Brad Keselowski currently sits second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship points standings, only seven points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. He owns one top‑5 finish and six series starts at Phoenix International Raceway, site of Sunday's AdvoCare 500, the ninth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Talk about how you and your team are approaching these final two races of the Chase and your team's preparation and expectations for Phoenix this weekend.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Thanks for having me on. I appreciate everybody who tuned in today. Like you said, coming to Phoenix this weekend, looking for a strong showing as we close out the Chase here the last two weeks. I feel like our cars have been very, very strong, and my team has been performing phenomenally. We've caught a couple bad breaks that I'm not real happy about with cautions and so forth that have kind of compromised our lead, so to speak, but I feel confident in our performance and that those things when they do fall our way, which I feel like they will over the next two races, that we'll be able to go out there and regain the points lead and make a run for this championship.
I know that we have the cars and the team to do it, and I feel very confident as we move forward.
Q. With your performances the last two weeks, especially that stirring finish at Texas Sunday, what message do you think you might have sent to the 48 camp?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, thank you for your question. The message we're trying to send is that we're not giving up. We have a lot of tools in our toolbox to continue to fight. I think if you review the situation at Texas, there were essentially four times where I felt like we had control of the finish of the race and a yellow or some unfortunate circumstance kind of took that back from us, and eventually that fifth one, that fifth bad break caught up to us there at the end.
So that was unfortunate, but we sent a message there that it's going to take a lot of punches for us to flinch and that we're going to continue to fight hard as far down the line as it takes.
Q. Can you take us a little bit through your mindset going into the next two weeks, just if you can, kind of share your thoughts? Do you wake up and is the first thing on your mind the Chase or are you doing some things to try to just kind of break that focus, or do you need that focus to kind of move forward?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: You know, that's kind of funny because I went to Vegas last week. I guess that's probably the best answer I can give you.
Q. Is it one of those things that you think about this a lot, that hey, I'm seven points behind, I've got to go catch him type of thing, or do you try to focus on whatever it is you've got going on that day in?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think when you're at the racetrack you're in the zone and you want it really bad, and I want it really bad when I'm not at the racetrack, but it's also important to maintain your sanity and to do the things that you did to get where you're at right now, and for me that's finding a happy spot in my life and my place and role as a human being on this earth, whether that's in the race car or out. There's certain things that I have to do as does everyone else to feel good about it. But certainly my focus is certainly on winning the championship. That's the primary focus of my life right now, and I don't see that changing.
Q. Sort of as a follow‑up to that, I think we all know the guys in the Chase are really terrific race car drivers, but it would seem to me the mental aspect of this Chase, especially as you get into the home stretch here, is maybe even more important. You sort of covered that in your previous answer, but I just wonder if you agree that focusing and not making mistakes is really important in the Chase.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, certainly. I've said before in one of our media sessions that of all the spots or roles in professional sports that a race car driver is most similar to, I would put it right there with an NFL quarterback. There's a certain level of phenomenal talent you must have to achieve to be able to throw a ball down the field, but a large part of it is decision making, and you find that the elite athletes aren't all it takes. Elite athletes that can run around and throw the best pass, it takes more than that. You have to be a great decision maker and a great leader, and that's why you see certain guys in football that are successful, and I feel that same way now.
So that shows the importance of a solid mental approach as a foundation for being a great race car driver.
Q. During the telecast I guess you were getting an update on the Detroit Lions game, and I think it was Dale Jarrett that clearly showed you were far too tight. He was kidding, but do you remember that; you were getting updates on the Lions?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, one of my guys is on the fantasy football deal, and he had an opportunity to pick up Mikel Leshoure, who ran for three touchdowns and had a great day in fantasy football, and he turned him down and was really, really upset about that, so I had to give him a little bit of business about that over the radio because I knew he was listening in. I saw him again today and we had a little bit of fun with that.
Q. Right along the lines of the decision‑making part of this, in light of‑‑ you had Texas, probably mostly your call, Martinsville, all your call on key strategies late, I had a former crew chief, current broadcaster tell me this morning, said, Brad is one of those unique drivers who can compete and think. He said a lot of drivers just say, okay, I'm going to drive as hard as I can, you take care of the strategy. Is that just natural personality on your part, or how much of that comes from coming from a racing family, especially an ARCA family, where there's not a whole lot of choice for say a driver or owner; they pretty much have to do both? Does any of that come from your background or is it just natural?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Thanks, and I appreciate you recognizing the ARCA part of my family. That's certainly where they started. Certainly was a key series in the foundation of this sport and also a partner of NASCAR for quite some time.
But I look at the role I have in the sport right now, and it's grown with success. I think with me, I've had some success being more of a leader and being more of a thinker inside of race car, and with that success, you continue to evolve that, and that direction has been where I've evolved my style, without a doubt.
And as I continue to be more successful, I'm going to continue to evolve my style in that manner. That doesn't mean I do it all on my own, though. Paul and everybody at Penske Racing has a lot of thinking to do, as well, and they do a great job with that. But if there's a way I can complement that and help them get to the next level with some of the information that I have, it's just going to make all of us that much better, and I enjoy being able to work with them accordingly to be able to do that.
Q. You mentioned at the opening of the call some cautions that had not fallen your way, that sort of thing. Do you still stand by those two calls that you made in these last two races and just figure, hey, I couldn't anticipate 17 cars pitting behind me and couldn't anticipate the way things‑‑ how do you look at that? Do you stand by them and they just didn't‑‑
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Sure. Well, I stand by all the calls we've made throughout the Chase. They've been great calls. I'm more disappointed in others for not making them, as well. I felt like at Martinsville if one more car stayed out that we would have been able to hold off Jimmie and win the race. I feel like this past week at Texas, if one or two more cars stay out, we would have been able to hold them off and win the race. And then to your point on the cautions, I felt like if one or two cautions didn't come out at Texas, we win the race. If one or two cautions come out at the end at Charlotte, we win the race.
Those little things have fallen against us, and that's frustrating, but we're doing a great job of controlling what we can control, and those little breaks that we're not catching right now, they'll come back full circle, and I feel confident that when they do, that I have the team and the group around me, there's speed in the car, all those things, to be able to capitalize and win races and win this championship.
Q. The aggressive approach you guys have taken in this Chase, I get the feeling that a lot of that comes from your nature, but I also wonder, is any of it kind of a strategic decision made with an eye toward upending a 48 team that historically doesn't make a whole lot of mistakes?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, they do a great job. It's a great group, and they do a great job of managing their mistakes, but they still make them, just like we do. You look no further than Kansas, and I think Jimmie had a winning car there, and he'd probably tell you that. So those mistakes are going to happen to everyone. That's how you recover from it, and they've done a phenomenal job of it, as have we. But some of it you rely on breaks to get your back when you make a mistake, and that's the dialogue I was getting into about yellow flags and so forth.
You've got to try to minimize them, make as few as you can, and you need a little bit of luck to recover from them, and we've both done a great job of that, and that's why we're where we're at in the points.
Q. I just wondered if you were trying to push them out of their comfort zone at all by making some of the calls you've made?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Maybe.
Q. It's a heavyweight fight from this point onwards, and Detroit has had some great fighters in the past, boxers. Do you come out swinging in these last two races, getting that first punch in, or do you counter‑punch or do you just take your time in the last couple of rounds and make your move? How does it all work out for you?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, for me, my goal is to go to the next two races and win. That's quite frankly where my head is at, and we control our own destiny if we do that. I feel like we have an opportunity to win at Homestead, the same type of track as far as the asphalt configuration and the tire compound is what we've been very successful at with Texas and Chicago. So I think that's going to play to our strength.
I look at Phoenix and I think we had a great run in the spring, we finished fifth, and I felt like that was when we weren't even quite as strong as we are now as a team. Now that we're stronger, I feel like it's realistic for us to go to the next two races and win, and that's what we're going to try and do. That's the goal I have.
Q. There's no time to be timid looking at taking a backward step, it's all on the front foot from here on in?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, you're not going to win races or win this championship on your back foot, I can tell you that, whether it's me or Jimmie. You're going to have to go full forward and win these races.
Q. You were talking about not getting the breaks that maybe you could have, so I'm curious, are you angry, frustrated, disappointed, or kind of just‑‑ is that just kind of racing and are you over it?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I caught some breaks earlier in the Chase, there's no doubt about that. You're looking at Dover and the way that played out, that one I certainly caught a break or two, and then we caught a break at Talladega. Those are two races where we caught some pretty good breaks and then you mix in two or three where we've caught some pretty bad breaks. I feel like if you look at the last two races, if neither of us two teams, the 48 or myself, catches a good or bad break and we're just even, I feel like we can outperform them and win the championship, and that's all I can ask for.
Q. Does the seven‑point deficit to a guy like Jimmie Johnson seem bigger than it would be to a guy who hasn't won a title?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I mean, it's not a little and it's not a lot, it's something. There's no doubt about that. But with two races left and the ability to win on the last two races and that being enough to overcome that deficit, to me it is what it is, and we feel like we can fight around it.
Q. This is the first year really in your career that you've been able to contend for a championship. I was wondering what are the most‑‑ what's the most significant thing that you've learned in the Chase this year that you can apply to the years ahead?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Most significant thing, band well. That's something I would probably have a better answer to with hindsight since we're still in the Chase. It's not really the easiest of questions to answer. But I just continue to learn the strength of a team that does not give up and that will not say no and that will not just fall back when things don't go their way, and that is so powerful, and that's what I think both Jimmie and I have.
Q. I wanted to ask you about next year, also. You're going to have a new teammate, a new manufacturer, a new car. You guys have been really, really good this year. I was wondering if you guys are really optimistic about the future, too, in racing for championships in the years ahead because right now it seems like you guys may be poised possibly for a dynasty like what the 48 has, with as good as you guys are and as many tracks as you guys are good on.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, certainly I would agree that the future looks very bright for us as a team and as a company at Penske Racing with the Miller Lite Dodge, but we still have work to be done. You don't win by resting on your laurels. You have to continue to grow and become a better racing team or racer than what you were last year or someone else will, and they'll beat you.
I look at that and say, I've got a lot of questions about the Dodge and the Ford and so forth and the switch that's going on there, and it all comes down to growth potential and the ability to continue to grow, and I think the switch to Ford shows the commitment we all have at Penske Racing to being better tomorrow than we are today. That's what's going to put us in a position to do those things. Time will tell if that was the right decision or if we can capitalize off of it, but I think the commitment is there.
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