Keselowski's Reign Ending But Not His Outspokenness
November 12, 2013 | 5:28 P.M. EST
"It’s tough watching someone celebrate in the winner’s circle every weekend. I want to win everything." (Photo: Getty Images)
His reign as NASCAR Sprint Cup champion ends this weekend, but Brad Keselowski’s hope to lead the sport continues.
He’s been critical of the sport’s leaders, outspoken about some rules and supportive of young drivers by putting them in his Camping World Truck Series rides.
Ask Keselowski a question and he’ll provide an answer. It might not a popular answer, but it’s what he believes.
As the season comes to a close - one where Keselowski missed the Chase - he recently talked about a variety of subjects. Here’s what he said:
Q: Have you been testing things during the Chase for next year?
Keselowski: Absolutely not. We’ve been running the Chase, with the exception of the Kansas test and the Charlotte test, just trying to do the best we can in 2013. We’ve spent a little time on development for next year, but it’s a little especially with the rules being so undefined next year.
Q: When you won the title, you said you wanted to help lead the sport. Have you found it was harder than you thought it was, were you met with more resistance?
Keselowski: I don’t think it’s fair to answer that question in the scope of one year. I think that’s a question that answers itself over the course of a decade, maybe more.
Q: Are you that patient?
Keselowski: I’m not very patient. Quite frankly we have to get better if we’re going to exist at the level we’re at. This is a big ship. Whether things are going right or wrong, it takes a long time to turn it. There’s no doubt that there are some things we can do better.
Q: Are Penske Racing and Roush Fenway Racing fighting the same issues with their struggles this season?
Keselowski: We talk a lot and actually no. Our strengths and weaknesses as programs are complete opposites. I think if you look at Martinsville and some of those flat tracks, flat short tracks where we’ve been very, very competitive, sat on the pole at Loudon, ran really well at those tracks, that’s, I think, the Roush weak point. I think if you look at our weak points, which would be the repaved tracks like Kansas and Michigan, that has been some of my weak points personally, even though we did start to get better at those with (teammate) Joey (Logano) specifically in the second half of the year. I think our weaknesses are definitely on other sides of the coin. That showcases to me that Ford per say is not the problem, it’s our own individual team strengths and weaknesses that we must address.
Q: What was different about being the champion that you didn’t anticipate?
Keselowski: I guess I never really anticipated that it would be better or worse than what it is now other than maybe the demands on your time. I wouldn’t say that there’s been anything that stuck out other than that. Your words sometimes carry a bit more weight, but I guess I anticipated that along the way.
Q: How do you feel at the end of the year not being in the title race? Is it more relaxed?
Keselowski: Relaxed but not in a good way. I’d much rather be fighting for the championship. I think everyone can agree with that. Even though it’s anxiety, it’s a good type of anxiety. You’ve got a chance to do something remarkable and winning a championship at the Sprint Cup level is a remarkable accomplishment. There’s a lot of talent here, not just from the driver perspective but from the crew and the team down. Winning a championship is a total team effort and just to be in the running is quite an accomplishment that brings its own anxiety but it’s the right kind, the kind you look for.
Q: Has it been more fun than you thought being a champion would be or put more pressure on you?
Keselowski: I’ve had a lot of fun. It’s probably a little bit of both. There’s some things that have been more fun and some things that have been less fun. The opportunities that come up are a lot of fun. There have been a lot of unique opportunities. The not-so-fun part is the expectation of performance. There’s a lot of people and a lot of teams beyond our own that go through cycles. We went through a pretty rough cycle over the summer that really hurt us. We needed to get our consistency back to be a team that can continue to contend for championships, and I think we’re pretty close to that. That part there is obviously frustrating, but I think when you step back and take a look at the bigger picture and look at those before me that have won championships, and with the exception of looking at Jimmie Johnson, most everyone that wins the championship the first time cycles (down) for a while. Matt Kenseth, to me, he’s an inspiration. You look his last championship was 10 years ago. I think that shows that even great drivers go through those different things. Matt didn’t become a worse driver in 2004 than what he was in 2003 nor did he through that whole stretch. Sometimes things don’t work out, they don’t come together, but when they do you’re quite capable of getting back in contention and having an opportunity like this.
Q: Do you find that you’re asked to give opinions a lot more than you can give them?
Keselowski: There’s a lot of requests but those people don’t have to pay the fines. There’s a lot of things I’d like to say or do. Even though it might not seem like it, I do filter some of the things I say. Maybe not all of them.
Q: What is your aversion to the baseline concussion testing?
Keselowski: I think that’s a different realm than what our sport has shown to be successful. We’ve grown to a very strong spot as a sport since 1949 and managed to avoid those types of involvements. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Q: Have you had more time to look into that issue since it was first announced?
Keselowski: Yeah. I’m well-versed on the topic. I think there’s a lot of unknowns about the enforcement of the policy that will really dictate whether it's successful ... or a detriment to the sport.
Q: How much impact did the issues at Texas and the penalties there earlier this season have?
Keselowski: That’s really hard to quantify. There are a lot of issues that absolutely had nothing to do with Texas. We had some pretty significant reliability issues throughout the middle stretch of the season. You can’t blame that on Texas. We had some issues on pit road. I made some mistakes that cost us. I think it’s been a well-balanced set of issues and not one in itself. It’s not fair to point to one thing.
Q: But that Texas week in the spring seemed to make a difference in momentum.
Keselowski: It did because it was very demoralizing. I still feel like we were in the right there, but it is what it is. There’s no court system because I’m pretty sure we would have won it if it was. It’s over, and we’ve got to move on.
Q: Is it going to be tough to watch someone else celebrate a championship at Homestead?
Keselowski: It’s tough watching someone celebrate in the winner’s circle every weekend. I want to win everything.
Q: How has your perspective changed a year later on winning the championship, especially after your struggles this season?
Keselowski: Like in any aspect in life, it’s the lows that make you appreciate the highs. It’s no different for a racer than it is a normal person. Having rough spots throughout the year make you think how lucky you are to have any kind of success from time to time.
Q: If Jimmie Johnson goes on to win a sixth title, what would it mean to be one of the guys to beat him for crown?
Keselowski: To me, knowing the playing field and how it all it works, it’s something that I take more pride than what I would if I didn’t understand the playing field. Obviously that team is immune to the cycles that everyone else (has) and to beat them is a very large accomplishment in this sport. They’re just a great team, and it takes a clutch effort to beat them and I’m proud that we were able to deliver that last year.
Q: Where do you view Jimmie Johnson compared to the rest of the field? Is it driver? Is it crew chief? Is it something else?
Keselowski: That’s a difficult question to answer. You can never really answer in this sport what percentage is driver, car, etc. Jimmie is even harder to define because there are so many contradictions. You look at (Texas). It’s very hard to believe that Jimmie Johnson is a driver that can run two or three-tenths (of a second) faster on pure skill than the rest of the field, but that’s what the numbers all showed. How that seems to work ... and always at the big events is always a big question mark. I have more questions than answers. It’s hard to really put that together, especially when those speed differences are even compared to his teammates. You would think that it would be the same equipment, but you just don’t know. I can tell you this, I feel like heads-up I can beat him and that’s all I can ask for.
Q: As a Camping World Truck Series team owner are you more confident NASCAR will move in a direction you suggested earlier this year in that Sprint Cup drivers should not run for Nationwide or Truck teams that are owned by Cup owners?
Keselowski: No. The key to the lower series’ future is to not allow Cup drivers to compete for Cup owners. I think it serves the sport in every level, but I’m not confident that that will become a rule.
Q: What if there was a cap on how many Nationwide or Truck races a Cup driver could run if they were running for an organization operated by a Cup owner?
Keselowski: That’s a start, but I think that’s self-policing as it stands now in the difference with travel schedules. The real solution to fixing the second- and third-tier of the sport boils down to not letting Cup drivers compete for Cup owners.
Q: Can you survive as a Truck owner?
Keselowski: No. You have to be able to lose money on a constant basis. That’s just the way the system works. In Nationwide, you could if you had that rule in.
Q: You going to continue with your Truck team?
Keselowski: I’m going to try to. Not ready to announce those plans yet.
Q: Why is less aero the way to go with the cars?
Keselowski: It reminds me of this quote, I shouldn’t say quote because Clint Bowyer is not really quotable, but he does have quips. We were talking about the All-Star race and he goes, “All these media people want to know what I’d do to win $1 million. I can’t even get to somebody’s bumper to wreck them.’ It’s all because of the aerodynamics. If you can’t get to someone to race them side-by-side how are you ever going to have those key moments that we look for? That's more specific to mile-and-a-halves but I also think it is across the board. When I go back and look at racing over the past decade and see how it evolves, aerodynamics have changed. Cars in the '80s didn’t make downforce, some of them made lift. Now the cars make almost 2,500 pounds of downforce. To put that into perspective, these cars are close to being able to race upside down based on the amount of air pushing on them. That’s IndyCar-like numbers out of a stock car.
Q: Do you make the Sprint Cup cars drive like the Trucks?
Keselowski: When people reference the Trucks, they always reference the lower horsepower, but the Trucks aren’t significantly different from an aero perspective to the Cup cars as it stands right now. What makes the Truck racing, in my opinion, so great is the spread of quality teams vs. decent teams.