With a newly repaved surface, Kansas Speedway welcomed NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams and drivers a couple of days early, as NASCAR granted an opportunity for extra track time to get acclimated to the new racing surface.
During the extra time at Kansas, series championship points leader Brad Keselowski took time to talk to the media about the Chase for the Sprint Cup. And while he was at it, he also found some time to talk a little football and reflect on his childhood at the race track.
Below, is a transcript:
Q. You said you were respectable in those races at Pocono and Michigan, the first after the repave. Even going to Phoenix I assume maybe you were respectable but not great. Did you feel like you had to change your approach at all on how you approached these repave weekends, or is it just a matter of that track that day?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, you know, if I had a great answer for that, we would have fixed it earlier, so I don’t really have a great answer for that. But I think in general it’s been one of our weaknesses, and even at that it’s not been a huge weakness. In general I feel like we’re stronger in this particular scenario than what we’ve been in the others. So I think that bodes well for our opportunity this weekend.
Not that anything is guaranteed, but it’s certainly a good sign or omen.
Q. I’ve got a couple questions. One, I heard a story about when you were about 10 years old or so helping your dad, that you’d go to the track as a 10 year old with a briefcase that held tire notes or all sorts of —
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I was 12 or 13, but yeah, it’s close.
Q. I’ve heard the story from other people, so can you give me the official version of the story of the briefcase. Why the briefcase?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, back in the late ’90s having a briefcase was like a fad. I don’t know if anyone was here when that was going on or who was around, but everybody had a briefcase in the late ’90s in the sport, and I just wanted to fit in. So I had a briefcase. I remember it quite well. The only thing I really had in it that was racing related was a couple racing books on geometry and certain things about car handling that I would read at night.
Other than that, I had like a stick of gum and a CD player, but I felt really cool because I had a briefcase and I was fitting in. I can definitely still remember that. Then it all changed to where everybody has got backpacks now, so that’s the fad of the decade, I guess.
Q. Well, it leads to the question of the one thing that intrigues me a lot about you is just when you listen to different drivers and everybody has their own style, you certainly ask for more information than a lot of guys. A lot of guys like to be left alone. You’re asking Paul specific things, you’re asking Joey specific things. Why is that? How did that kind of develop? How does it help, because I think somebody could say you can get to a point of too much information or the whole notion of, hey, you’re driving a car, why are you thinking about what’s going on here and here. Can you talk about that process?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, maybe I watched too many Saturday morning cartoons, but I subscribe to the belief that knowledge is power, and the more knowledge you have the more powerful you can be.
You know, everybody has different driving styles, and somebody asked me the other day what’s the — in another sport, what’s the closest equivalent to being a race car driver. When you talk about things like that, it makes me think of being an NFL quarterback because certainly there’s a skill set of talents to be able to throw the ball and do those things, but a lot of the game is mental and being able to read defenses and things of that nature, and there are players that don’t do that very well that just have so much raw talent they’re able to make up for it. I don’t know, maybe I’m short on raw talent, but I’ve always relied on being able to read the situation and react accordingly. That’s always been when I’ve had the most success.
The more knowledge I can have of the situation, the better read I can make and call the right audible.
Q. Is that information that you’ve gleaned — you talk about the NFL quarterback; was that gleaned when you’ve gone to the Michigan football practices?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I don’t know if you’ve watched the last couple seasons. They haven’t been that great.
Q. I didn’t know if that was a discussion you had with this those quarterbacks just in a general sense.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, not really. I do play a lot of Madden football, so I don’t know if that counts for anything.
Q. More specifically with the track itself, are there certain parts of the track that you can compare with other tracks, or does the track as a whole compare to one other? And how busy will tonight be as you all think about tomorrow being kind of the official day?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I mean, tomorrow might be the official day, but it’s going to feel a lot like today to me, other than the actual qualifying aspect.
But I think I look at the aggregate laid down as probably being the best thing to compare off of, and the aggregate is obviously what the asphalt is
But it’s most similar probably to Michigan, and I think that the race will be similar in that sense in that the track feels similar in that sense.
Q. Kind of a follow-up on the big news of last week with Dale Earnhardt, Jr., something Jeff Gordon said, he said that if he were in contention to win the championship, being honest, he probably wouldn’t be as forthcoming with information that would take him out of the race car. As a guy who’s in the midst of this championship hunt, how widespread do you think that attitude is?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Oh, wow. I don’t know how to put myself in everybody else’s shoes. I don’t think it’s fair for me to try to do that because the situation is very, very, very complex. You know, I just don’t know how to answer, but I don’t think it’s fair for me to answer that for others. I can answer for myself in that things of that nature have a way of policing themselves because if you’re not able to do your job, you tend to get kicked out of your ride. So there’s somewhat self-policing.
But obviously there’s a role of self-responsibility, which I think is a good thing. We seem to live in an era where self-responsibility is not really applauded or thought very highly of, but I think that what happened last week was an example of how that system can work, and it’s the best one to have.
I’m okay with it.
Q. Keeping it specific to you, as the championship leader, this could be the most special year of your life. What would it take for you to take
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I mean, it would take a situation where I didn’t feel like I could do it. That’s the reality of it. And if I didn’t feel like I could do it, then I would definitely not get in it. I don’t think it’s any more complicated than that, if I didn’t feel like I could drive the car at the level I needed to be competitive, which is really all that matters, because if you can’t do it at a level to be competitive, then you’re also at that same point where you’re a danger to others. The two are hand in hand.
I can tell you this: That an elite Cup driver at 80 percent is better than an off-the-shelf driver from a lower series in the sport. So from that front, that kind of covers the in-between areas.
Q. Two things: One, you talked about knowledge. Talk about Paul Wolfe, what he’s meant to you and what he brings to the 2 team. You guys have had some pretty good success.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I mean, Paul just has an approach that understands racing at a level that’s unprecedented to me to see from a crew chief. He understands the compromises that racing consists of, between speed, handling, long run, short run, weather conditions. He understands all those balancing acts that you have to constantly make decisions as a racer or as a member of the sport about, and he is really good at balancing those out.
And from there I feel like it’s just a matter of executing, making it happen. I feel lucky to have him and to have the fast race cars he provides. He obviously does a great job with the strategy and everything else, and we seem to make a great team.
Q. Second thing, as a former Nationwide champion and frequent participant, what’s your thoughts on them cutting the field back to 40?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I don’t really have any strong thoughts on it. I kind of like the idea of having 43 in Cup and then 40 in Nationwide, and I think it’s 36. It kind of creates a tier. That’s really the only thing I like about it. I don’t have anything I really dislike about it. Obviously it just changes the structure just a small amount. I don’t think it’s going to really hurt anybody, and I don’t think anyone will even really notice after it’s done.
Q. If I could look to next week with Martinsville, you got your career best there in the spring in 9th, and I’m wondering how much of a hurdle do you think that track is considering the fact that you’re always in traffic, you’re elbow to elbow with other drivers the whole race, and the opportunity to get caught up in something is high? What’s your take next week headed into Martinsville?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I think this week and next week are probably going to be two of the toughest weeks for my team respectively. I look at Phoenix, we’ve got a test coming up there for the 2013 car, which will hopefully get us acclimated to that track. Homestead and Texas I think are right in our wheelhouse as far as tracks that have a lot of tire falloffs, they’re mile-and-a-halfs, they’re fast, they fit my style and our car and team’s approach.
Martinsville is just one of those tracks where it seems like there’s numerous variables that we’ve struggled with, and I don’t think they’re our fault. I look at last year, I think we were running fifth or sixth in the fall and just got caught up in a wreck on a late race restart caused by somebody who retaliated on the track. You don’t know how to predict that or I don’t feel like there was anything I could do about it.
And then similar in nature, this past spring where we were running I think fourth or fifth and had that mishap down in Turn 1.
Those things happen, but we’ve had speed at Martinsville, and I’m encouraged by that. And you know eventually if you have enough speed at a track over and over again that you will get the results out of it, and I’m confident of that.
Q. I don’t know if you had a chance to watch “Wind Tunnel” on Sunday. Jeff Gordon was on there and he —
BRAD KESELOWSKI: I did, yeah.
Q. He made mention about Talladega not really being a real race.
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah. I heard that, yeah.
Q. Some people will say that about fuel mileage racing. You’ve had a lot of success; Penske has had a lot of success all the way back to the days with Ryan Newman. They won a lot of races on fuel mileage. But some people would say that that’s not real racing. Your comments on both?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: On both? Well, Talladega has certainly evolved over the years to where it’s obviously a lot different than what it previously was. I think it’s always been, as is every track, but to a further extent, very dependent on your car’s performance.
But you know, every time people say that about Talladega and Daytona, I kind of chuckle about it because it’s that mentality that separates the winners from the losers at Daytona and Talladega because the winners go there and know that, although they might get wrecked doing absolutely nothing wrong, they also know that if they make the right move on the last lap or two that they’re going to win the race.
So I’m kind of happy for that mentality because I know it gives me an advantage when I go to those places against those that have it. That kind of is what it is, and I almost feel exactly the same way about fuel mileage races because I know I play a role in those. It might not be 100 percent responsibility, but I play a role in it, and those of that opinion are sure to be beat.
I’ll take it and smile about it.
Q. The repaving, how much of a wild card is that this weekend, and what kind of a race are you expecting?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, obviously any time you make drastic changes to a track, it’s going to be a wild card. You can throw away any stat book you have for this track, whether it’s average finishes or a guy that leads a lot of laps, the things I think a lot of people look at to judge who’s
So those things are kind of thrown out, and you’re left with some variables, obviously the performance of the tire being a big unknown. We had issues at Michigan, and it appears that we don’t have them this weekend. But still, there’s questions as to what their falloff will be and whether or not that will open up passing.
I’ve been told that the weather is going to be a lot hotter on Sunday. That’s going to really affect those variables to where we don’t know what’s going to happen with the tire again.
So there’s another part: The ARCA cars, I think we’re all kind of curious to see how they affect the track with the Hoosier rubber and possibly running the second or third lane and opening that up to where it’s a multi-groove facility on the first race. Obviously we’d like to see that happen, but you just don’t know. We’re not going to really know until the race gets started, and I think that’s what’s great about the weekend, or week I should say; being extended a day or two for us as competitors, it gives the track a longer period to evolve, which I think is a good thing.
Q. Before the season started, a lot was made out of the electronic fuel injection. I haven’t heard much since then. In your opinion how has the EFI affected the racing this year, or has it just been a very smooth transition?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, I don’t think we’ve seen the full picture yet, but there has been some changes to the sport. You could debate whether those are good or bad, and I think I’ve said my peace about those things. But moving on, obviously the fuel mileage things and so forth are a lot different, and that was something that I’m not sure if we could have predicted. But at the end of the day, it’s the same for everybody, and we’re working through them and finding a way to persevere.
Q. To go back to one of these other questions that you were asked, one thing that NASCAR did today was alter their policy just a little bit. They went to Hamlin and said would you please go to the care center, even though he was able to drive the car back. And last week Jeff Gordon, after making the statement this gentleman said, agreed that he would be very much in favor of NASCAR setting a policy where if you receive so many Gs that you should go to the infield care center, that he thought that was a positive, regardless of where you were in the points. Was that a good step do you think today in Hamlin’s case, and do you think that Jeff Gordon is also right in his opinion?
BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, you know, what’s difficult is there’s a policy that NASCAR has where if you can drive your car back that you’re usually not responsible to go to the care center because usually if you have the wherewithal to drive it back, you’re probably okay.
Obviously there are situations where that’s not the case, and that’s in everybody’s judgment. I go back to the words or term I should say of self-responsibility. Obviously Denny didn’t feel like he needed to go and didn’t go, but NASCAR disagreed, and that’s fine, too, because that’s kind of our cover-all for the circumstances previously discussed.
Like I said, I can’t stay strongly enough how in favor I am of the current policy we have and how I think the sport is fine in this regard.
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