BROOKLYN, Mich. - Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion, has two wins this season and will be looking for a third as he competes at his home track – Michigan International Speedway – this weekend in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Keselowski was a guest on this week’s NASCAR Teleconference.
BRAD, YOU WERE ALWAYS ON THE FOREFRONT OF SHOWING SUPPORT FOR OUR MEN AND WOMEN IN UNIFORM, AND YOU RETURNED HOME TO YOUR HOME STATE OF MICHIGAN LAST WEEK TO RAISE SOME MONEY FOR THE FISHER HOUSE THROUGH YOUR CHECKERED FLAG FOUNDATION. HOW DID THAT GO? AND WHAT WAS THAT LIKE BEING BACK HOME?
BRAD KESELOWSKI – No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion
“First off, thanks to everyone who called in, and appreciate your time today in anticipation of this week's events in Michigan, which are certainly a big race week for me both personally and professionally, with growing up in the area, and of course the connection with the OEMs and Penske Corporation, since I drive for Team Penske.
I would say it's a weekend that is circled every year on our calendar and one where we've had a lot of success but haven't been able to break through for that first win. So I feel like with the season we're having this year, we have a great opportunity of checking that box off.
So we're looking forward to that. But to your point about our servicemen and servicewomen, which are, of course, very near and dear to my heart.
My foundation, the Checkered Flag Foundation, does a lot to celebrate veterans and help not only honor them but hopefully enrich their lives through various programs.
And this year we've chosen to do so through a partnership with Fisher House, which, the long and the short, helps provide homes and comfort homes for the families of military who are, of course, in the midst of an event where they need to be seen by a medical hospital.
And so the state of Michigan does not currently have a Fisher House facility but has plans to produce and build one once funding is complete in Ann Arbor, Michigan next to the VA clinic.
So it's our hope that our foundation can play some role in helping to complete the funding to facilitate that. Through various fundraisers we've been able to put a dent in that project.
And we're hopeful to see it come to fruition, because it's a world‑class facility that helps those that are really, really in need and some of their toughest moments. So it's something I'm proud to be a part of.”
WITH JUNIOR'S LAST TWO RACES HERE IN MICHIGAN, CAN YOU JUST GO BACK TO THAT TIME WHEN HE WAS SO IMPORTANT IN YOUR CAREER STARTING OUT AND TALK ABOUT THAT A LITTLE BIT AND THE THINGS THAT HE WAS ABLE TO DO FOR YOU AND WHAT YOU LEARNED FROM HIM, KIND OF? “Sure. Dale gave me an incredible opportunity, and I don't know if I would have made it without him. I don't know.
But I'm glad I didn't have to find out. And I'm thankful for the support he gave me in the early days of my career, really the foundational days of my career, because he didn't have to do that, certainly. It wasn't something he had to do. It was something he wanted to do.
And that means a lot to me. I think it means a lot to everyone when someone does something for you that they don't have to do and they're not expecting anything in return.
So that's real altruism. And his ability to show that means the world to me and to a lot of others in the motorsports world.
That said, as far as what he means and what he's meant to Michigan International Speedway. He's a winner. He's won there in the past.
Clearly, he has a very large fan base that extends to all the racetracks across the United States, and even throughout the world. And he deserves the credit for doing so, because he's had a lot of moments where ‑‑ as everyone does in this sport ‑‑ things don't go your way, and he's been able to handle that with a class and dignity that's really an example for all of us to follow.
So, his retirement in some ways is bittersweet for all of us, because I think a lot of us don't particularly want to see him leave. But on the other side, we're happy to see him turn the page for the next chapter in his life. So, I guess it's all part of the cycle of life.”
THERE'S BEEN A LOT OF TALK ABOUT THE YOUNG GUNS IN THIS SPORT, ESPECIALLY AFTER RYAN'S WIN ON SUNDAY. I WANTED TO ASK ABOUT FELLOW MICHIGANDER ERIK JONES, WHAT YOU SEE OUT OF HIM THIS YEAR AND IF YOU THINK HE HAS A SHOT AT MAKING THE PLAYOFFS? “Yeah, I think he's done a great job. He's so, so fast. He's got a tremendous amount of speed, which that's kind of the foundational or one of the foundational items for any race car driver is: Can he go fast?
And the rest seems to be more procedural, which comes with time, experience and so forth. So he's got a great foundation and a great team to build off of. And he's doing all the right things. So you never know with younger drivers how things are going to turn out.
Because obviously there's a dynamic learning curve. And some start really high up but never progress. And some start further down but progress rapidly.
So you never know where someone's going to kind of end. It's not a static chart. But he is certainly starting in a very high place.”
YOU'RE HEADED TO MICHIGAN. THIS IS ROGER'S TOWN, ROGER IS ON A LITTLE BIT OF A HIGH, HAVING SWEPT LAST WEEKEND. AND IT'S MY UNDERSTANDING YOU STILL DO NOT HAVE A NEW CONTRACT WITH ROGER. WHY IS THAT? (Chuckling). “Well, that's a great question, one that I hope to have answered very, very soon. And I can tell you that I've gone a long ways in my life and career with the help of Roger and all Team Penske and I hope to continue to do so. So I think that's all I can say really at the moment.”
IS IT YOUR INTENT TO STAY WITH PENSKE OR IS THAT 88 ENTICING? “Roger has given me a lot and I have no reason to not want to stay with him.”
YOU TOUCHED EARLIER, YOU WERE ASKED ABOUT THE THINGS THAT DALE HAS DONE FOR YOU. HOW REWARDING OR FULFILLING WAS THAT ON SUNDAY TO SEE SOME OF THE ALTRUISM YOU'VE GIVEN IN YOUR PROFESSIONAL CAREER COME BACK THROUGH RYAN? “Yeah, I mean, I guess I didn't know how I would feel in that moment. It wasn't something I had really thought about or prepared for, which is probably why it was so enjoyable, to see him in victory lane. And it kind of hits you.
I think there's a lot of moments you have in life that you really don't prepare for and when it happens it's just pretty dang awesome. And that was a pretty dang awesome moment for me, to see him win and to see one of his dreams come true.
Certainly he has more dreams in life than just to win a Monster Energy Cup Series race. But it's still a big accomplishment.
And to see it come true and know you played some part in it ‑‑ I'm not sure if it was small or big ‑‑ but to know that you played some part in it, it's very rewarding, because a lot of this racing world and life in general is made possible by people that push you along and give you opportunities throughout life.
And like Greg mentioned earlier, I wouldn't be where I am at in my career without the help of people that have given me the opportunities. And I'm thankful for them. But I can never really repay them for that. And so what I can do is pay it forward to others and give that same opportunity.
So seeing someone like Ryan win is almost like the best thank you I can give to Dale Jr. or to Roger or to my dad and family that gave me opportunities.
In a lot of ways it feels good for that reason. But so many reasons it's kind of overwhelming to try to explain, because it's a bit of a wave of emotion, because of course I still want to win.
I still have to compete against him. But then on the other side, if you can't win, those are still some really feel‑good moments.”
THERE HAVE BEEN A FEW ACCIDENTS THAT WE'VE SEEN FROM DRIVERS AND TEAMS HAVING BRAKE ISSUES. CURIOUS, IS THAT A BIG CAUSE OF CONCERN? I MEAN, CERTAINLY BRAKE ISSUES HAVE HAPPENED IN THE PAST, BUT WHAT WE'VE SEEN OVER THE LAST MONTH HAS BEEN FAIRLY EXTRAORDINARY, IT APPEARS. “Yeah, I'd say that's an understatement. As someone who has lost brakes twice and been in major accidents, there's nothing fun about losing control of a race car at high speed and not being able to slow down.
That is pretty much the most terrifying accident you can have as a driver, because you have a chance to think about it. You know what's coming. And you know it's not going to be good. And there's nothing you can do but kind of ride the roller coaster.
And a lot of times those type of accidents are going to be the ones that really hurt. So, yeah, it hasn't been fun to watch, because I can relate to it.
It's a byproduct of, you know, the way the technology has developed along with, in concert to the rules changes. So it's a tough equation, I think, to solve and one I suspect that we have not seen the last of this year.”
DOES NASCAR NEED TO SET SOME SORT OF RULE OR STANDARD FOR THE BRAKE ‑‑ OR DIFFERENT RULE OR STANDARDS FOR THE BRAKE PACKAGES TEAMS ARE USING THAN NOW, OR IS IT PRETTY MUCH, DO YOU FEEL, A TEAM RESPONSIBILITY? “I think for now it's a team responsibility. The demands ‑‑ I always like to say that a race car is built to 110 percent, where 100 percent is what it needs to run a race. Then you need to add a 10 percent margin, whether that be in mileage or other metrics to measure durability.
With the rules package I think it's caught teams ‑‑ along with the technology change ‑‑ I think we used up that margin and then some.
We used up 15 or 20 percent. And just the teams weren't ready for it. And sometimes teams have to learn lessons the hard way. And that's kind of the growing pains of the sport. And I would suspect, over the next few months, especially the hot summer months, that we'll see a lot of teams go to a more robust package.
And to NASCAR's credit, within the rules there are more robust packages available or allowed to be run that to my understanding have not been run by the teams that have had issues, and they will have to reconsider that with failures of this sort.”
WE'VE ASKED THIS TO OTHER DRIVERS, AND I'D LIKE TO ASK IT TO YOU ALSO ABOUT RACING ON YOUR HOMETOWN TRACK. SOME DRIVERS HAVE SAID THEY HATE THE PRESSURE. SOME OF THE OTHER GUYS HAVE SAID, WELL, IT'S JUST ANOTHER RACE. WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS, BRAD, HOW DOES IT PLAY ON YOUR MIND? DOES IT PLAY ON YOUR MIND A LOT? “You know, earlier in my career it used to feel like a ton of pressure. But as of late, I don't seem to feel quite as pressured by it. I think maybe that's just changes in my life or changes in the status of my career as I've become more established.
But now I just look at it and I think of how amazing it is to run well there, and I don't seem to get stressed about if I don't run well there.
And that's been good. But I would say it certainly affects people in different ways. And in my case it's affected me differently as I've grown older.”
I WANTED TO ASK YOU ABOUT DAYTONA, ASKING ABOUT WHAT YOU DID LAST YEAR, LEADING 115 LAPS, AND THAT WAS YOUR BREAKTHROUGH WIN AT DAYTONA. SO CAN YOU TALK ABOUT DAYTONA; IS THE TEAM GETTING READY FOR THAT RACE NOW? “Well, yeah. I mean, to win at Daytona was pretty amazing. I didn't realize I led that many laps. So anytime you want to share a stat like that, feel free.
I wish you could be there on the hard days to share stats like that. But that was a big, big day for us for a number of reasons. First win at Daytona. And Team Penske 100th win, to do it in such dominating fashion was a great day. I think we're going to go back there and run really, really well again.
We seem to develop some techniques with working the draft there that really stood out. And I'm hopeful to have the same success again. The team, unfortunately, took that car and put it in a museum, which I was a little bit frustrated with. But then they told me they built a better one.
So I'm not sure which part is true or not. But hopefully we'll go there and have a rocket ship and be able to knock it out of the ballpark again. I know it's a weekend I look forward to as kind of that marker within the season of halfway, even though it seems like every year it's either one race before or after halfway in the season.
But it's a good marker for your team to really have a measuring stick on where you're at throughout the season and to kind of establish the second half of the season.
So it's a good race weekend and one I enjoy so much. So I'm going to go down a little bit early and take my yearly family vacation. I look forward to heading to the beach in a few weeks. But in the meantime I have a few other races to check off.”
FORD IN THE LAST FOUR OR FIVE YEARS HAS BEEN LOGANO AND KESELOWSKI, KESELOWSKI/LOGANO ‑‑ TRY AND SAY THAT FOUR TIMES IN A ROW. BUT NOW IT'S LIKE FORD'S SPREADING THE WEALTH. I THINK THERE'S BEEN FIVE DIFFERENT FORD DRIVERS THAT HAVE WON THIS YEAR. IS THAT A GOOD THING? DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL GOOD TO SEE MORE FORD GUYS WINNING RACES? “Well, it's important for the success of the program. I think Ford likes to use the term bullets in the gun that I don't disagree with at all. But it's important to have multiple teams that can compete at a high level for a number of reasons.
But one of the most significant of which is that the development on the engines comes from the funding of the top tier teams. And so the more top tier teams you have, the more funding you can have to develop the engines for Roush Yates who is our current Ford supplier.
And that just is one of those high tides that raises all four ships. So we're happy to see that and hopefully that Ford can get a manufacturer's championship that they've so badly desired over the last few years this season.”
OBVIOUSLY YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE YOUR FOUNDATION ON THE TRUCK THIS WEEKEND THAT CHASE IS DRIVING AT GATEWAY, AND I KNOW HOW IMPORTANT YOUR FOUNDATION IS TO YOU. BUT TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT JUST THE SUCCESS. YOU TALKED ABOUT DALE GAVE YOU AN OPPORTUNITY AND HERE YOU ARE GIVING AN OPPORTUNITY TO TWO YOUNG DRIVERS WHO HAVE OBVIOUSLY SHOWN THAT THEY'RE FAST AND HAVE THE CAPABILITIES TO RUN UP FRONT AND TO CHALLENGE FOR WINS. HOW SATISFYING IS THAT FOR YOU AND ALSO HOW IMPORTANT IS IT FOR YOU TO HAVE YOUR FOUNDATION ON THAT TRUCK AS PART OF THE EVENTS THAT ARE GOING ON IN GATEWAY THIS WEEKEND? “Two parts here, then, if I'm understanding you right. The first about the team and what's going on with respect to them and the young talent and drivers and the second one about the foundation, having it on the truck, if I'm following you right, is that the question?”
THAT'S CORRECT, YES. “Well, I think first off with respect to the team, Chase Briscoe is off to a really strong start, considering his experience levels in that series being what they are, very, very low. He's competing already for race wins.
We feel like our trucks are pretty fast but probably a step behind the Toyotas.
And so for him to be able to still perform at the level he is despite being at a bit of a car disadvantage or, I should say, vehicle disadvantage with the trucks, I think it's really telling to his potential in this sport.
And I feel like at this moment evaluating him as I do all the drivers that have a chance to compete in those series and try to scout, he's probably the best young talent I see in the sport right now that's not at the Cup level.
So I feel like we're really, really lucky to have him. And I'm hopeful that he can continue to develop on the path that he's on.
So it's been a really, really strong start and I've seen him make moves that showcase his ability in vehicles that I don't think are necessarily the fastest ones out there.
So I feel lucky to have him as a part of our team. So I would say that's probably the first part with Chase.
With Austin Cindric, it's been a pleasure to be a part of him. He's super, super professional and a good kid.
He's coming from a road racing background and he's really bitten off a lot with trying to convert to oval racing. He has the right approach and mentality and we're here to help him try to take that next step in his career.
It's a big leap for him. And I think he's making the most of his opportunities and we're hopeful to see him continue to grow in them. And we're going to be behind him and support him along the way.
So it's always a pleasure working with people like him that have the level of professionalism and more of that enthusiasm to have the desire, passion that we need to be successful.
So I think he's got a great opportunity and we're glad to have him as part of our fold. But I think all in all my biggest concern is being a little bit behind with those trucks speed‑wise. And I would like to see that step up a little bit.
We're working on that and hopeful. But it's really hard for us to compete against the Toyota group with the funding gap that there is between their programs and ours. So we're trying to make the most of every opportunity, make every dollar count. And I think those drivers make it worthwhile for me personally, to see us kind of fight that fight.
As far as the foundation's concerned, it's always a pleasure to be able to showcase it. I'm always a little bit squeamish when it comes to showcasing the foundation, because in some ways I really don't like it to get a lot of publicity because it seems a little bit self‑serving and not really what I want it to be. I don't want the foundation to be about me. I want it to be about the cause.
So I'm always a little bit reluctant to promote it in a number of ways. But I also understand that via the different channels I have with respect to media, corporate sponsors, fans, et cetera, I have a tremendous opportunity to use my name and brand, likeness, et cetera, to promote those causes.
So in that light I'm happy to see it be a part and to get recognition this weekend at the racetrack and hopeful that it's the message that gets the credit, not necessarily myself.
So in that regard, looking forward to a big weekend with all those different things going on.
YOU'RE OBVIOUSLY IN A DIFFERENT PLACE IN YOUR LIFE THAN YOU WERE EARLIER IN YOUR CAREER WITH NOW A WIFE AND A KID. AND I'M CURIOUS, AS WE GET OLDER, WE A LOT OF TIMES WE LOOK AT THINGS DIFFERENTLY. AS YOU HAVE FACED OR WERE FACED WITH THIS DECISION OF WHAT TO DO WITH YOUR FUTURE BEYOND THIS YEAR, HOW DOES WHERE YOUR PLACE IS, WHERE YOU ARE IN YOUR LIFE, WITH YOUR FAMILY, DOES THAT IMPACT THINGS DIFFERENTLY THAN WHEN YOU WERE 21 AND JUST TRYING TO FIND THE BEST OPPORTUNITY, JUST TRYING TO GET IN ANY TYPE OF RIDE YOU COULD? “Absolutely, yeah, without a doubt. Right now you'd be almost foolish to be an athlete in sports who has a wife and kids and not have the concussion discussion as a family, because we're all seeing that quite frankly there are athletes out there that are either dying or suffering severe loss of quality of life in the latter years of either their career or so forth.
And so when you have a family, you have a tremendous responsibility to look out for them. So it does play a role and it's a family discussion, for sure.
I've had that conversation with my wife and family and I feel good about continuing to go on and do all those things in the latter years of my career, which hopefully I have a decade or so left to perform.
But certainly there's a lot of discussions around that for I think any athlete in the latter half of their career, because it's becoming quite obvious that even though you might not feel the ramifications of some of these events, impacts, et cetera, that they still can make a difference and change you in a negative way in the latter half of your life or career.
And so I think there's a level of, I don't know how to put it, but a level of thought that we all put into it, into the discussion, and that all, of course, factors in when you have a family.
But there's no right or wrong decision. I think it's just a decision you make together as a family. And my family has made the decision to continue to move forward and enjoy the opportunities that we have as being professionals in a sport that we love and keep moving on.
But that might not be the same decision for everyone in our shoes, and I respect that accordingly.
DOES THAT IMPACT ‑‑ YOU SAY YOU HAVE A DECISION SOON. I KNOW YOU PLAN TO STAY, DOES THAT IMPACT HOW WHAT YOU'RE WORKING IN RACING, WHERE YOU'LL BE RACING NEXT YEAR AND BEYOND? “No, I would say it was a discussion I had six to 12 months ago, or discussions six to 12 months ago, to try to just plan out. There's some great charts ‑‑ I don't know if you've seen them ‑‑ that shows that a driver's best years are right around age 39.
And I don't know if you've seen any of those charts or not, but so I still have six of the best years of my career left. And I want to see those to fruition. I'm driven to win multiple championships, and I have that opportunity.
And it's more of a waste for me to not see that opportunity and make the most of it or at least take it than it would be to even have an injury in that time span.
So I'm going to make the most of it and I'm looking forward to it.”
HAVE YOU MADE A DECISION OR YOUR TRUCK TEAM MADE A DECISION ABOUT APPEALING THE PENALTIES, AND IF THE DECISION HAS BEEN MADE, CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY YOU'RE GOING TO DO WHAT YOU'RE GOING TO DO? “No, it's my understanding we have a very short time window left to make that decision. I'm going to use every second of it to make the smartest decision possible.
It's not an easy decision because on one side I think the penalty is not a good penalty. I think the system for the penalty is not a good system. And I'm very disappointed in it. And on the other side, I feel like if we continue to appeal every penalty that it's just going to bog down my operation which has very little bandwidth, because of the financial situation that it's in with the Truck Series has very little bandwidth to fight that battle and also compete on the racetrack at the same time.
It's almost one of those things where we can't afford a defense attorney. So we're probably just going to have to plead guilty even though we don't think it's right and we think it's not the right decision made but that's the field we play in.”