NASCAR Media Conference
June 13, 2012
THE MODERATOR: Our guest today is Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge for Penske Racing. A native of Rochester Hills, Michigan, Brad has moved up into the Top‑10 in points for the first time in season. Boasting two Michigan victories in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, he finished third the last time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series raced at Michigan International Speedway in August of 2011.
Our Twitter question comes from @NMitchell2: What is the new rule change of shortening the side skirts affect handling of your car and how will it affect you at Michigan?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, thank you. I'm glad we have a Twitter question, that's good. The effect of the side skirts should be minimal. It's certainly a change in the right direction as far as reducing the aero dependency of the cars, at a track like Michigan, where speeds will top out around 215‑mile‑an‑hour, maybe even 220 in the draft, the effect of aerodynamics is going to play a large part in our race.
So anything we can do to reduce our dependency on them is going to just help us be able to race in a bigger pack and hopefully allow for more passing and all of those great things that bring a lot of action that we all enjoy to watch.
Q. When you're dealing with a new situation like this week, a track that's already pretty fast, how many practice laps does it take for you to figure out exactly how fast you can go into that first turn?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Every practice lap. You know, not until your last one do you really have a good judge for it because the track conditions change so drastically. You're looking at a track, Pocono was a good example of it last week that picked up three seconds over the course of the weekend. That's over ten‑mile‑an‑hour.
So I think you're going to see as a driver where it's important to keep an open mind behind the steering wheel to where you continue to push the car harder as the track grips up, and continue to push your limit.
So I don't think it's until the last lap that you really know where its at and a bit of a moving target.
Q. Can you run too fast at Michigan? Is there some kind of limit?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, to me, too fast is when we start flying in the grandstands. Until then, it's just a matter of how much pride you have and how much heart you have being a race car driver.
Q. I notice every time something has happened recently with Kurt Busch, you have been reluctant to address it, with being a former teammate and everything, but this latest thing that just happened with Kurt, did you have any impressions or opinions on it? And what in particular do you think his future will be if he keeps finding himself in trouble? Is he the kind of guy that has so much talent that he will always have a ride in NASCAR or is there a legit fear that he may find himself looking‑‑
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think there's two parts to the question, what was my opinion on his incident with the reporter at Dover; is that correct?
Q. Correct. Yes.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Okay. Well, I felt like it was an unfortunate situation for sure, and there was a part of me that sympathizes with both sides. It's certainly not the way I would have handled it. I don't know how Kurt feels about it and I'm not in his shoes and I don't pretend to be in his shoes.
You know, I hate to throw him under the bus or do any of those things, but I do know as a sport, we rely on the media to be the voice of the fans, and in that case, I think there was certainly some fan interest in what had preceded beforehand that justifies some of the line of questioning that he was subject to.
So I can understand, also, the emotion and the fire it takes as a competitor to be a winner and how that could make you see it a bit differently when you've been caught in situations where you have to deal with the drama, rather than focusing on what you need to be the best race car driver possible and to go out and win races, which is what motivates most of us as race car drivers at the end of the day.
I know you get frustrated, I know this as a competitor, by those styles of questions, because you know at the end of the day, they are directly affecting your ability to be competitive. As a race car driver, that can be unacceptable in your mind at times.
So I can see a bit of both sides as far as that's concerned, and I'm just glad I was not in those shoes. Like I said before, I wish Kurt the best in everything he does, and don't feel like putting him in a position where he would feel otherwise.
I still have a lot of respect for him and his talents. Yes, I think that there will always be a spot for an elite talent in this sport, and Kurt is an elite talent. I've raced around him. I've tested with him, practiced with him, I've talked to him extensively.
He is the most talented driver that I've worked with in Sprint Cup, and that will remain until somebody else proves differently. I feel privileged to have worked with some great drivers, you know, with the time I spent at Hendrick and Penske, there were a lot of great drivers that have been my teammates. I feel like it says a lot that I feel that he is the most talented one I've worked with, and that talent will carry him through some of those trying times, and I think he will find another opportunity down the road. Certainly those black marks against him don't help.
We are in a period of time in this sport where your ability to bring in funding for sponsorship is almost more important than your ability to run well or run competitively once you get behind the wheel, and so that does not favor a guy like Kurt, and that's a bit unfortunate to me. I think that's bad for the sport. But it is what it is and it's certainly going to affect his future forward. I think he would tell you that himself, but I also wish him the best.
Q. I know you have some background driving at Toledo Speedway you and spent some of your formative years driving at the track; how does that foster your development as a driver? And what does it mean to you to come back to this area, your backyard and drive at MIS?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Oh, I still have very fond memories of Toledo for sure. It's one of my favorite tracks from growing up, and I attribute it a lot to my success as I've grown up and ran well at tracks like Bristol because of it's similarities. So I miss running there, for sure.
One day, I would like to do that again and have a shot at going down and running a couple of the big races they have got. I think they still have the Glass City 200 that they run there. I wish it wasn't on a current Cup weekend or one year I might go down and run it.
That track was very formative for me. I remember I think being five or six years old and being snuck into the pits and in the trunk of an old car. Some of my early racing memories took place there and will always have a place near and dear in my heart. It's a great track and I'm glad to be back in that vicinity, back in Michigan.
Obviously Toledo is in Ohio but it's right on the border there, so we spent a lot of time in that area. It means a lot to be able to come back and race and race with competitive teams like I have at Penske Racing. I feel very fortunate to be where I'm at in the sport right now, and it makes it all seem worth it, the sacrifices that you have to make as a kid to be a professional race car driver, whether that's skipping the prom or not doing those other things with friends and taking that time to become the best race car driver you can, or the best racer, in case you don't make it as a race car driver; being able to come back to Michigan with some success in the profession that I've chosen, is very rewarding and makes it all seem worth it, so it's very gratifying personally.
Q. Now you mention that you like the fact that you took a question from Twitter, and you've kind of become a little bit of a cult hero on Twitter as the season progressed; how do you regard it as far as communication with the fans and with the public?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think it's funny that you think of it as a little bit of a cult, and sometimes I have the same thoughts, but it's a good cult to be a part of.
It's a group of people that enjoy having some of the further access that the sport has the capability of providing and sometimes you're put in a spot where it doesn't work out, whether that's doing appearances and so forth and being able to tell people where I'm going to be; or just giving feedback how our weekend is going, I think it's a great tool for that.
I feel very fortunate to have a role as a leader in the sports integration of social media, specifically through Twitter. So that's a bit of an honor that I feel lucky to have, certainly from a competitor standpoint. I would look to other members of the media, NASCAR media, specifically, who pioneered that process, and I really feel like I'm just following a bit of their lead and I'm just lucky to get a little more attention for it.
So you know, as far as that's concerned, I feel lucky to be a part of it. Those people, those members of the media that started it, were certainly some of my motivation. To be honest, what actually sold me on it was the fact that I got an iPad from Nationwide when I won the championship, I couldn't find anything else to do other than be on Twitter, so it seemed perfect. It's funny how it's progressed since then.
Q. What are you looking for specifically tomorrow in the test? Do you have perhaps an advantage over the guys there? And you're tenth in points and pointing in the right direction; AJ has struggled a little bit this year. Are you guys working together on improving each other and how do you think the relationship is?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I'll start with talking about the tire test and I think you look no further than last week, Joey Logano, his results, that was good to see for him and his career. But he was also the guy that was fortunate enough to get a tire test at Pocono a few months back, and I don't think there's a coincidence to his success coming from that.
I think as I look at our team, certainly we have the potential to run very competitively at Michigan. I think we need to find a little more speed in our cars in general, and it's my hope that having the tire test will help supplement a bit of that lack of speed with the increase in knowledge. But obviously with having the extra day at the track for everyone, something that will be probably equalled by our competitors.
So, it's interesting. I can't really guarantee that we'll be successful just because we had a tire test at that track. But it certainly doesn't hurt. We'll just have to roll with it from there. We'll watch how that plays out.
As far as AJ has concerned, his season has certainly had its highs and lows. The way we have worked together has grown from the start of the year. I think it still is a work‑in‑progress, as evident by some of our results. The potential is there, and I'm excited to see if we can't be the two best cars on the rates track by working together throughout the course of the season.
Q. Coming back to Michigan, it's almost four years since Dale Earnhardt, Junior's last victory, but it seems as if certainly he's still the most popular driver in the sport and doesn't seem like there's been much erosion there. I know you have a window in what he's like as a person having driven for him and lived on his property, adjacent to it. Can you maybe give your thoughts on why you think even without winning, I know he's been performing well, but why does he resonate so well with the fan base even when he's not necessarily in the green lane all the time?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: That's a good question. I think he does a great job not just positioning himself, but actually being a bit of simple man. I think our sport, its fan base, really appreciates that.
Obviously there's some things with his success in the sport with winning championships and being a race winner multiple times in the Cup Series and the family legacy that he has that builds to his brand that makes himself successful, and that resonates with the fans.
Certainly that's also perpetual in the sense that he's able to align himself with great brands that activate him in a way that put him in the public spotlight to where he grows his base threefold again. It takes all of those things to be a start in this sport.
It takes having some authenticity to who you are that is appreciated by the fans, and then some success on the track, which he has had in his career, and then you, again, use the sponsorships and some of the partnerships that he has to put him in a position to grow his fan base again.
So I feel lucky myself that I have a brand like Miller Lite that understands some of those concepts. But I think it shows the importance at the most basic level of being authentic to who you are and just being a good guy, and deal is certainly one of those, and it resonates. I hope he's proud of that.
Q. And one quick follow‑up. I was talking to Roger Curtis this morning and he was sharing that from the tire test, you told him that you think this could be the best Nationwide race of the year on the new pavement. Why is that? Maybe just your thoughts about the pavement for Saturday and Sunday?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Sure. Well, I think you're going to see a lot of drafting in both series, but in the Nationwide Series with the limitation of horsepower, the draft becomes more influential to the car's performance. That will put the cars in a position to where if you can find clean air in the corners and combined that with drafting down the straightaway, you can make some incredible moves on the track.
And with the design and layout of Michigan Speedway as such to where all three lanes, the bottom, middle and top, are capable of the same speeds, essentially, on the track; that means you'll be able to switch lanes based on what the car in front of you does, to remove aero dependency in the corners, but then you'll also be able to file them down the straightaway to reduce drag down the straight.
So you'll be able to really capitalize on the air in a way that's not possible at other tracks, and I think that's really going to make a big difference with the Nationwide cars. And might even on the Cup side, too.
But so much of a difference that I felt inclined to run the Nationwide race to hopefully learn something extra before the Cup race. Beforehand, I was not scheduled to run it but after the test and what I saw, I felt like it was going to make a big difference. I stick by those words, and I think it does definitely have the potential to be one of best races of the year from the front of the back to the middle of the pack with incredible moves and a lot of passing and all of those great things that, again, we enjoy watching.
Q. You talked about‑‑ 220 or do you feel like you're totally on the edge?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Can you repeat that question?
Q. I'm you're curious, when you talk about going 215,220 miles an hour, is the car stable at those speeds or do you feel like you're more on the edge than not?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, if you're driving a race car, right, it shouldn't be stable at any speed. When your car is stable and comfortable, it's not fast.
So we'll find the limits of stability and comfort, because that's where max speed is going to be at, whether you're going 35 miles an hour or 235 miles an hour, and I feel like that's my job as a race car driver.
So, you know, I guess my comments are probably going to be a little bit different than everybody else who might look at it and say that a lack of stability at 235 is a bigger deal. I mean, yes, it is if you're scared, but it's my job to not be scared. It's my job to go out there and drive as hard as I can and not worry about those things and find my way in victory lane.
I don't think speed is a bad thing. I think it's what attracts all of us to the sport at some level and I think it's great that we are going someplace where we are going to see something we have not seen in a Cup car ever, we have never seen speeds this fast. The fastest speeds we have seen have been in qualifying at Talladega over 20 years ago it seems like, and those days seem long past.
So I think it's a great opportunity to showcase our sport in a new way, and you know, I hope that the race is a safe race, but I think it's a great opportunity to just, again, do something and be a part of something never done before.
I kind of liken it to when I went to Montréal for the first time and it rained, and you know, we had never seen a Cup race in the rain. It's just something different and unique. I think seeing a Cup race that's ran at speeds that fast is going to be unique, and I look forward to it.
Q. Do you feel with the increased size in that shark fin that you're using, do you feel like that's going to keep the cars on the ground?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, theoretically, yes, but we find a way to blow those theories up. There's really no way‑‑ I wouldn't guarantee it, but I certainly think it's a step in the right direction.
Q. If you can maybe share a couple quick stories about your dad's influence on your racing career; I assume he might have been the one that stuffed you in the trunk at Toledo. Just the influence he's had on your racing career.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Ironically, that's where I was before I walked into this teleconference, I was spending some time with him. I was able to rent out a small little shop for him to work on some cars that he's pursuing. He's building this car to go to the bottom of the salt flats and he's going to take my uncle, and my dad and my uncle are both in their 60s now, and it's my dad's dream to go to Bonneville and run 235 in a Cup car.
So he's been building this car to go do it. I went down there and watched him; told a few stories. It's interesting, because when I walk into a shop, I see all of the tools I grew up using, and of course they all look the same. It just brings back so many memories of what it was like growing up in Michigan with my dad, he was more than just my dad. He was a mentor and a boss.
So it's funny, looking back now, and how things have changed, how my life has grown and certainly he was a large part of the base that makes up who I am from the code that he thought me early on in life of work ethic, which I certainly didn't inherit all of his work ethic. His work ethic is amazing, but the basics of it, I feel like I did; to the approach of where you don't expect anyone to do anything for you, on the racetrack or off. Your success is in your own hands, and if you're not successful, you don't point fingers. You point it at yourself and say I need to work harder and I need to work smarter. I think I learned a lot of that approach to the sport from him, and like I said, that's part of the fundamentals of my success.
So I owe a lot of that to my dad, and I have a lot of good stories; I could go on for a long time, I want to spare you guys from that. But certainly being stuffed in the back of that car into a racetrack was maybe not the one he wants me to tell but it's one that sticks out, and there's a lot of those moments.
I don't look back in anger or frustration or disappointment; I look back at them and I think of how lucky I am to be where I'm at right now in this sport, and how he would was certainly the leader in putting me in this position.
Q. It's supposed to be extremely hot this weekend. With the new pavement, do you think the temperatures will affect the track as much as it would have with the old surface?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Wow, that's a great question. I think that you have to back that question up and go back to the asphalt that's been applied to these racetracks, and we have seen, the last half a dozen years, a few tracks be repaved: Charlotte, Darlington, Phoenix, now Michigan and Pocono. I'm sure I'm missing some somewhere, maybe Martinsville I guess I would say, I guess was redone in 2004.
Looking back at that, over the years, the pavement technology has changed drastically. So the aggregate that's being laid down seems to be a lot smoother. The tracks are lasting a lot longer and have a lot more durability, and they seem to have a bit more resistance to temperature as far as performance is concerned.
So it's my thought that Michigan will be the same as far as being a little less weather‑dependent on speeds. But I think we would all like to be a part of it and see it firsthand before we can promise or guarantee that.
Q. I wanted to ask you about with all of the new track surfaces being laid down and then the subsequent pre‑weekend testing I guess you're calling it, is that taking a toll on you or is it taking a toll on the crew? Last week you guys were at Pocono it seemed like the entire week.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Sure. I liked Matt Kenseth's quote who is more worried about his team hiking itself to death than anything else at Pocono.
Michigan I would like to think has a few spots to go to, but hopefully not too many, and the venue, like you said, a little less subject to perhaps wearing the guys out with night life and so forth. I'd be really concerned if this was a Vegas test, I can tell you that.
But it certainly is a workload and we are in the midst of a season, and adding that workload is a bit of a distraction. But in fairness to NASCAR, it's a distraction that is equal amongst all the teams. I think it showcases the teams with the best combination of mental toughness and depth to where you can work through this and that's not a bad thing.
Q. This weekend being your home racetrack, it's got that new surface on there, how hungry are you to hit on something early and maybe put that in your back pocket for qualifying or for the race?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, the race is what matters to me. I was very fortunate last year in the Cup race to get a great run in, like I said at the start of the conference here, finishing third.
But for the most part, I have not ran well at Michigan on the Cup level, so I'm hungry to just have a good, strong, consistent run where we can be a threat for the win, hopefully get the win; be a threat for the win and showcase the strength that the Miller Lite team has.
Certainly I'm hungry to run well every week. Michigan is just a little bit extra special.
Q. Who is going to be the main threats to your team and others come Sunday?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I think we can probably run a 36 flat. I don't know what that equates to in speed. I'll let you guys figure that part out. The biggest threat is probably going to be the 48 car, the 88 car and the 24 or the 5, the 20, the 11 and the 18.
I think right now, the Gibbs and Hendrick cars have the most speed. It's just a matter of executing the weekend from there when you have speed. That's your cornerstone, speed, as far as weekend performance is concerned. And that group, or those two groups, I should say, have the most speed.
It's a matter of which one of those groups executes the best, and they will be the biggest threat to win.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today, Brad, best of luck this weekend in Michigan.
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