Kickin' It With Brad Keselowski
Penske Racing' Brad Keselowski will run in his first Daytona 500 this Sunday
Opening weeks of season are important for drivers and chiefs to fine tune car
More topics: Denny Hamlin dust-up, rating Valentine's Day, watching hot tub fun
Brad Keselowski has agreed to do a diary this season for SI.com. In his latest edition, he talks about competing in his first Daytona 500 and what it means to be part of the Great American Race. Plus, his conflict with Denny Hamlin continues while he gives us his take on the best and worst shows on TV these days. Somehow, a hot tub is involved ...
How did it feel this past weekend to qualify for your first Daytona 500?
Qualifying really didn't register to me because the second I signed with Penske Racing, I knew I'd be locked into the race. It's an awesome feeling to be in the Daytona 500, but it's a better feeling to know that I have great cars -- and I can't state how strongly I feel that our cars are fairly competitive for Sunday. So, that's pretty exciting.
(Note: Keselowski backed up his words by leading his Gatorade Duel qualifying race on Thursday, then fighting back to a 12th-place finish after a commitment code violation on pit lane sent him to the rear of the field.)
For fans who might not be familiar with the sport, talk about what running Daytona means to so many drivers.
Well, Daytona's the Great American Race, and there's a reason why. It's the biggest race in America, in my eyes. I have a lot of respect for the Indy 500 and that race is huge. But for me, Daytona's where you go for stock cars to see the best racing in the world. Daytona is also the first race of the season, which adds a lot of luster to the race. Everybody's got brand new uniforms and brand new race cars. It's almost like the first day of school combined with the biggest exam.
What's your favorite Daytona 500 moment?
I would say the '92 Daytona 500 was pretty cool. ( Davey Allison beat Morgan Shepherd after a multi-car wreck eliminated much of the field.) That's probably the one I remember the most.
Talk a little bit about what you go through the first week of the season. You've been testing with new crew chief Jay Guy in the offseason, but how much do you have to fine-tune your communication? What types of exercises will you go through in these early practices to work on that?
We're trying to still figure that out. I just talked to Jay and I said, "Hey man, I think we're a top 10 car." And he said, "Yeah, well there's a bunch of changes I want to make -- to see if we can't go up a level." And I said, "Nah, man, don't touch it. I want to make the next progression on my end, and afterwards, you can worry about yours. But right now, let me get the job done on my end."
So, it's stuff like that we try to explain to each other. That's where I'm at -- you try and work together on it. There are obviously other things that make a difference: spending time together and staying objective. Keeping an open mind is very important to the relationship.
Do you think it's important to be friends with your crew chief outside the track? Or are you the type of driver who wants to keep things purely professional?
No, I think you've got to be friends with your crew chief. Your crew chief is almost like your wife, in a way -- so I'm on the friendly side of that.
NASCAR has made some moves to loosen the rules a bit for 2010. How do you feel things have gone during Speedweeks?
We've torn up a lot of cars, that's for sure. Fortunately, it hasn't been any of our cars for the Duels, although Kurt lost one in the Shootout. But the 500 car, that's your gem car, your best car. You certainly don't want to tear it up. I can understand the disappointment a lot of people have when they do.
But I think the only other difference -- this is my early impression -- is that the drivers that have always been aggressive just aren't going to be penalized for it now. There's no way for you to come back and say at the end of the day, "I could have been more aggressive and won this race. NASCAR wouldn't let me." No, that excuse is gone.
How has the larger plate affected the racing?
I haven't seen a difference in the drivers. I have seen a difference in the way the cars drive around each other. So, from a driver's standpoint, my early impression on that whole deal is that you're not going to see a lot of change out of the drivers.
Do you feel there are drivers who are afraid to show themselves, and will sponsors need to jump on board for this philosophy to actually work?
I think you can get away with a lot of stuff when you're running good and winning races -- sponsors will look the other way because that goes hand-in-hand. But when you're running 25th, you're not going to get away with that. So I don't think it's the sponsors that care so much. I think you have to be running well for them to not get upset. So, guys like me and Kyle Busch are always going to be able to be outspoken because at the end of the day, everyone will be like, "Oh, he runs good."
If you were slumping, would you be holding back a little bit on what you were saying?
Heck, yeah. If I wasn't running well, certainly.
You and Denny Hamlin had some issues on the track Wednesday. Can you tell us what happened?
We were nearly wrecking, I will say that. On my end, we made contact because I felt that he slid up in front of me. I don't know his side of it. It seemed like he ran over everybody, not just me. NASCAR is saying drivers are going to police themselves -- we'll see how the other drivers police each other.
You know, he had a chance to make a move on me, and the closer you get to somebody, the worse you make your car handle on both ends. I think I was on pretty old tires at the time. My car got looser and looser. I had a car underneath me -- and rather than force the issue in practice with somebody underneath me, I ran up the track (to let him in) and cracked the throttle a little bit (to back off). He got underneath me after that, but he wasn't going to clear me -- and he decided he was going to clear me anyway. When he did, I was still there. I had to lift -- so when I got back to his bumper, I let him know that I was still there.
Entering your first full-time season in Sprint Cup, what are your realistic expectations?
I don't think numbers are realistic. I have a goal for a feeling of growth, from Day One to Day 250 or however long the season is. That goal of growth is to see progress from where I ended last year -- and that could mean a lot of things. That could mean finishing in the top-10 over and over again. That could mean winning a race. That could mean making the Chase -- but not necessarily all those things together. So I hate to put an actual number on a goal as much as a feeling of progress.
Penske starts the year as the only program being supported by Dodge. Is that an advantage or a disadvantage, and why?
I wouldn't define it as an either/or. I don't feel like we're the only Dodge team. I feel like we are Dodge. That's a difference in mindset. There are advantages. I don't see where the Evernham group (now RPM, a Ford team) worked with the Penske group before, anyway. And if it means we can save Dodge money by not having extra teams or reallocating some of that money to our teams, I think it's an advantage.
POP CULTURE QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Talk to me about Valentine's Day. Do you think it's an overrated holiday?
I don't think it's overrated. I think it's cool. Relationships are cool, and if there's some way of celebrating it and making everybody happy, that's fine with me.
ADVICE QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Want advice from your favorite driver? E-mail us at email@example.com with your questions and one lucky fan will appear in the diary next week!
SPIN HER OR WIN HER (Which Girls Would Brad Like To Meet?)
Today's Topic: Athletes
The Williams Sisters -- WIN THEM. Well, they're good at what they do, tennis-wise. It's good to have siblings who play the same sport. I'm not going to go out on a limb and say I'm a fan, but I'm a fan of what they've been able to do together as a family.
SPEED DIAL: What's Hot And What's Not In Brad's World This Week
Today's Topic: TV
RING ME UP: There are two shows I watch a lot. Modern Marvels on The History Channel, and then there's VH1's The Best Week Ever. I watch that a lot.
I LOST THE NUMBER: When I'm going through my DirecTV list, there's a show called Hot Tub Fun. And every time I click on it, I'm picturing girls in a hot tub. But it's not. It's talking about different kinds of hot tubs. You can't put Hot Tub Fun on there without making a guy think of something else. That show makes me mad every time I click over.
Who's the driver or team you think is the biggest threat to get to Victory Lane (other than you?)
I'm going to say Kyle Busch. The Gibbs cars are really good this week.